Thursday, July 28, 2011

Globalization and American economy

The impact of globalization has been one of the most controversial topics of debate in macroeconomic policy making for nearly two decades now. However, for most part, the debate has been partisan and driven by ideological considerations (free-marketers Vs protectionists). In this acrimony, important issues about how the dynamics of globalization affects economic output, employment, trade and inequality have not got the deserved attention, atleast among policy makers.

In this context, Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo have an excellent working paper on the impact of globalization on employment, economic value-added, and value-added per employee across various sectors of the US economy. The deeply empirical paper has several interesting findings.

They divided the economy into two buckets - tradeables and non-tradeables - and examined what happened in them during the high-noon of globalization, the 1990-2008 period. Tradeable sectors' output is traded across national borders and include manufacturing, agriculture, mining, technical services, financial services etc. Non-tradeables include government services, health care, retailing, transportation, construction, restaurants, legal services etc.

Their main findings, based on examination of historical time series data from US BLS and BEA, drawing on aggregate and particular industry level data for employment and value-added, include

"Value added grew across the economy, but almost all of the incremental employment increase of 27.3 million jobs was on the non-tradable side. On the non-tradable side, government and health care are the largest employers and provided the largest increments (an additional 10.4 million jobs) over the past two decades... without fast job creation in the non-tradable sector, the United States would already have faced a major employment challenge."






And about the underlying forces driving these trends and future prospects, they write,

"The trends in value added per employee are consistent with the adverse movements in the distribution of US income over the past twenty years, particularly the subdued income growth in the middle of the income range. The tradable side of the economy is shifting up the value-added chain with lower and middle components of these chains moving abroad, especially to the rapidly growing emerging markets. The latter themselves are moving rapidly up the value-added chains, and higher paying jobs may therefore leave the United States, following the migration pattern of lower-paying ones."


And about the implications of this trend, they point to long-term structural challenges with respect to the quantity and quality of employment opportunities for Americans, especially with respect to income distribution

"... almost all incremental employment has occurred in the non-tradable sector, which has experienced much slower growth in value added per employee. Because that number is highly correlated with income, it goes a long way to explain the stagnation of wages across large segments of the workforce."


More critically, they point to the impact of this trend on the US labor market, which assumes greater significance in view of the prevailing unemployment gloom,

"The expanding labor force was absorbed in the non-tradable sector (roughly 26.7 out of a total of 27.3 million net new jobs), government and health care leading the growth (10.4 million incremental jobs between them). In our view, it is unlikely that this pattern will continue. Chances are good that the pace of employment generation on the nontradable side will slow. Fiscal conditions, the costs of the health-care sector, a resetting of real estate values, and the elimination of excess consumption all point to the potential for a longer-term structural employment problem. Expanding employment in the tradable sector almost certainly has to be part of the solution. Otherwise, the United States will have a longer-term employment problem."


In other words, the authors make the point that while globalization has made goods and services less expensive for Americans (and kept a lid on inflation), it has also diminished employment opportunities for Americans at the lower and middle parts of the value chain, besides leaving open the danger that the higher-paying jobs at the top end of the value chain too may follow lower paying jobs in leaving American shores.

They also claim that the two contrasting trends across the tradeable and non-tradeable sectors - the former growing in terms of income (higher wages and profits) but not jobs and the latter growing in terms of jobs but not income (stagnant wages and benefits) - is a recipe for increasing inequality and social and political polarization.

Their prescription for the American economy is simple - boost the tradeable sector. Without dramatic increases in the size and scope of the tradable sector, the US economy will face an extended period of slow job growth and rising inequality. Arguing against protectionism, they advocate policies that incentivize businesses to invest in the physical and human capital necessary to make American workers more productive, rather than simply outsourcing work overseas.

See also this from Michael Spence and this from Uwe Reinhardt.

1 comment:

Anil Nilugonda said...

"They also claim that the two contrasting trends across the tradeable and non-tradeable sectors - the former growing in terms of income (higher wages and profits) but not jobs and the latter growing in terms of jobs but not income (stagnant wages and benefits) - is a recipe for increasing inequality and social and political polarization"

point taken :)