Politicians often tell us that we should live within our means. Quite right. Unfortunately, many of them do not appear to understand what this actually entails when it comes to fiscal policy. So far as most economists are concerned, the events of the last decade have thoroughly discredited advocates of austerity. Yet, it remains quite common to hear politicians from across the political spectrum calling for reductions in fiscal deficits or even fiscal surpluses. There appears to be little awareness that, in most countries, a call for a fiscal surplus is, literally, a call for the society to live beyond its means.
Neoclassical economics, which remains the prevailing orthodoxy, emerged in the late nineteenth century in the context of rising working-class opposition to capitalism. The theory’s appeal in certain circles as an apologetic for the status quo probably assisted its rise to prominence, which is not to imply that this was necessarily a motivation of the neoclassical economists themselves. The rise of any economic theory requires a receptive audience. Classical political economy had not provided defenders of the system with a comparable apologetic. Not only had it informed Marx’s analysis of capitalism but there were socialist movements drawing on interpretations of Ricardo’s labor theory of value. Class was central to the understanding of capitalism in both classical political economy and Marx, and no attempt had been made to conceal the class antagonisms characterizing the system.
This post concerns an implication of Marx’s treatment of productivity and labor complexity for the appropriateness of alternative processes of wage determination. For simplicity, it is assumed that all activity is productive in Marx’s sense (that is, productive of surplus value) and that conditions are competitive in the Marxian (and classical) sense that investment is free to flow in and out of sectors in search of the highest return. Introducing unproductive labor, including a substantial role for public sector and not-for-profit activity, and non-competitive elements would considerably complicate the analysis. The point of the exercise is to consider the incentive effects of alternative wage-determination procedures, from the perspective of Marx’s theory. It is suggested that Marx’s distinction between abstract and concrete labor implies that centralized wage determination, more than alternative wage-setting approaches, will be conducive to productivity growth.
There are often attempts in the west to depict China as capitalist rather than socialist. After decades of China going from strength to strength on macroeconomic criteria – and in view of its undeniable achievement in reducing poverty at a rate unmatched in recorded human history – some on the right wish to deny that this could have been accomplished through socialism and so instead claim China to be capitalist. At the same time, there are those on the left who wish to distance notions of socialism from China’s economic system and especially its record on human rights.
The previous part of the series introduced a short-run relationship between prices and output, P(Y), that is in keeping with a Kaleckian or Keynesian understanding of demand-led economies. According to this view, within the economy’s capacity limits, output reflects demand while prices reflect cost. So long as supply conditions remain unaltered, variations in demand are met with variations in production at stable prices. But when spending goes beyond the economy’s current capacity to respond in quantity terms, price pressures emerge from the demand side.
So far, in considering a simplified economy with a job guarantee, the focus has been on the demand-determined behavior of output and employment. Prices, in this exercise, have simply been taken as given on the grounds that they are not causally significant in the process. This approach does not require prices to remain constant, although, for given supply conditions, they may well do so over a fairly wide range of output for reasons to be discussed. Nor does it require that prices are necessarily unrelated to output; only that the direction of causation in any aggregate relationship between the two mostly runs from output to prices rather than the other way round. But once attention turns to the issue of price stability, which is of considerable interest to job-guarantee proponents, it becomes relevant to entertain a possible short-run relationship between output and prices. This will provide a basis for identifying potentially price-stabilizing aspects of a job guarantee in the next part of the series.
The model, in its present form, is short run in nature. It concerns an economy for which total employment, within-sector productivity and productive capacity are all taken as given. Variations in total output are achieved by workers transferring between two broad sectors that have differing productivity. In considering this economy, discussion has touched on aspects of a steady state and system behavior outside the steady state. It has been supposed, in the event of exogenous shocks, that the broader economy (sector b) drives the adjustment process through its reactions to excess demand or excess supply, with the job-guarantee program (sector j) absorbing or releasing workers as appropriate to maintain total employment at its given level. A tendency for the economy to move toward the steady state has been illustrated with reference to a Keynesian cross diagram (part 2) and a description of the growth behavior of actual output and demand whenever the system is outside the steady state (part 3). Attention now turns to the conditions under which this tendency to a steady state is operative, or, in other words, to the question of dynamic stability.
The model as outlined so far implies particular dynamics. These dynamics are driven by the quantity response of the broader economy (sector b) to mismatches in supply and demand. With the size of the labor force, level of total employment, within-sector productivity and the economy’s productive capacity all taken as exogenously given, the quantity response of sector b requires a change in the sector’s level of employment. The response of sector b induces an inverse response from the job-guarantee sector (sector j), which adjusts as required to maintain full employment at all times. The resulting variations in the composition of employment between higher-productivity sector b and lower-productivity sector j enable the adjustment of total output to total demand.
As a preliminary exercise, it may be instructive to modify the familiar Keynesian cross diagram to include the effects of a job guarantee within a simple short-run framework. The diagram includes two key schedules. The first is a 45-degree line showing all points for which actual expenditure equals actual income. The second is a line with lesser slope depicting the level of planned expenditure (total demand) at each level of income. Under appropriate conditions, the two schedules intersect at a steady-state level of income.
The job guarantee as proposed by Modern Monetary Theorists would provide a publicly funded job with defined wage and benefits to anyone who desired one, with public spending on the program varying automatically and countercyclically in response to take-up of positions. In a downturn, workers who lost their jobs would have the option of accepting the job-guarantee offer. As the economy recovered, some workers would receive better offers elsewhere. By design, the job-guarantee provider would not compete on wages in an attempt to retain such workers. Rather, the program would provide a stable wage floor, serving as a nominal price anchor for the economy. Periodically it would be appropriate to revise the program wage, but these wage adjustments would reflect factors such as trend improvements in the economy’s average productivity or distributional considerations rather than fluctuations in demand. Earlier posts have considered various macro aspects of a job guarantee using a model developed within the familiar income-expenditure framework. The present post is the first in a six-part series attempting a more systematic – and in some ways simpler – treatment of the topic. Results presented earlier continue to hold, as the basic model remains the same. The model itself is very simple but amenable to extension.