The State of the Economy

1. There have been several posts pointing out that wage growth has been slow, even though the unemployment rate has fallen.

2. There have been several posts, including some of mine, on low long-term interest rates. More recently, the WSJ talked with James Bullard.

Right now, “the markets are making a mistake” and expect the Fed to maintain its ultra-easy policy stance longer than Fed officials themselves currently expect, Mr. Bullard said. When it comes to these expectations, “I would prefer that those be better aligned than they are.”

3. Scott Sumner writes,

The 4-week moving average of layoffs came out today at 287,750. Total civilian employment in September was 146,600,000. The ratio of the two, i.e. the chance of being laid during a given week if you had a job, was below 2 in 1000. That’s only happened once before in all of American history–April 2000.


We are even seeing a lower employment/population ratio in the key 25-54 demographic, compared to seven years ago.

Read his whole post.

On (1), I would note that a few years ago wage growth was violating the Phillips Curve on the high side, and now it is violating the Phillips Curve on the low side. And yet mainstream macroeconomists stick to the Phillips Curve like white on rice. I would emphasize that the very concept of “the” wage rate is a snare and a delusion. Yes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics measures such a thing.

Instead, think of our economy as consisting of multiple labor market segments, not tightly connected to one another. There are many different types of workers and many different types of jobs, and the mix keeps shifting. I would bet that in recent years the official statistics on “the” wage rate have been affected more by mix shifts than by a systematic relationship between “the” wage rate and “the” unemployment rate.

On (2), I view this as evidence for my minority view that the Fed is not a big factor in the bond market. Instead, the Fed is mostly just following the bond markets. When it actually tries to affect the bond market, what you get are “anomalies,” i.e., the failure of the bond market to do as expected by the Fed.

On (3), I think that we are seeing a Charles Murray economy. In Murray’s Belmont, where the affluent, high-skilled workers live, I am hearing stories of young people quitting jobs for better jobs. On the basis of anecdotes, I would say that for young graduates of top-200 colleges, the recession is finally over. The machinery of finding sustainable patterns of specialization and trade is finally cranking again.

In Murray’s Fishtown, on the other hand, the recession is not over. I would suggest that we are seeing the cumulative effects of regulations, taxes, and means-tested benefits that reduce the incentive for firms to hire low-skilled workers as well as the incentive for those workers to take jobs. As Sumner points out, President Obama’s policies have moved in the direction of making these incentives worse.

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