Are We Nearly There Yet?
It’s the boom which isn’t quite a boom. The labour market data today is far more significant than the arbitrary benchmark of a return to the pre-crisis level of output… in aggregate, if not per capita.
The chart above attempts to decompose the loss of UK output versus trend growth into a demand-side and a supply-side component. The demand-side is represented by per capita hours worked. The supply-side is output per hour worked. Both are benchmarked as the deviation from 1997-2008 trend, and on that benchmark the demand-side recovery is now complete. The supply-side, however… not so much.
That is in no way sophisticated; it is fairly primitive. But however you cut the data, the labour market is doing astonishingly well. Which means that the real GDP figures look relatively pathetic – and that has been true since early 2012; the recent weakness of output has been partly or mostly a supply-side not a demand-side phenomenon.
There is really only one hope left for supply-side optimists in my view. Maybe there is still, somewhere, hiding under a bush, some pockets of highly productive but currently idle labour ready to spring into action. Set against that we have seen a massive surge in labour supply from low-skilled workers, which is pulling down average productivity. Maybe that surge is because of welfare reform, migration from the empty deserts which used to be called Spain, Greece, etc; maybe it is because MTRs on low incomes have been slashed and the retirement age hiked. Maybe the data is wrong, and rising numbers of self-employed are lying about their hours in the LFS responses. Then we must also turn a blind eye to the rise in MTRs further up the income scale, and pretend that doesn’t matter. (Check out Figure 2a and 2b in Paul Johnson’s excellent dissection of UK taxation.)
The one data point optimists can cling to is that nominal wage growth is dead dead dead. Completely totally dead. This is growth rate of nominal regular pay divided by average weekly hours, rolling 12m total, used as a proxy for nominal hourly wages (perhaps a poor one):
With a tight labour market and strong nominal GDP growth, we should expect to see nominal wages rising at around the same rate as NGDP, 4-5%, as they did before 2008. That is not happening. Despite amazing Lawson-boom-esque growth rates of hours (or jobs); the labour market is nowhere near tight yet. So we’ll have to wait to see what happens as that slack continues to be used up; only when nominal wages catch up with nominal GDP we will know for sure.
(Also: NO RATE RISES YET, THANKS MPC, KEEP PUMPING, THERE IS NO “INFLATION”.)