# Saturday Quiz – May 16, 2015 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you understand the reasoning behind the answers. If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

Question 1:

National accounting rules dictate that a national government surplus equals a non-government deficit (and vice-versa). If a national government successfully achieves a fiscal surplus through an austerity program then the private domestic sector must be spending more than it is earning.

The point is that the non-government sector is not equivalent to the private domestic sector in the sectoral balance framework. We have to include the impact of the external sector.

This is a question about the sectoral balances – the government fiscal balance, the external balance and the private domestic balance – that have to always add to zero because they are derived as an accounting identity from the national accounts. The balances reflect the underlying economic behaviour in each sector which is interdependent – given this is a macroeconomic system we are considering.

To refresh your memory the balances are derived as follows. The basic income-expenditure model in macroeconomics can be viewed in (at least) two ways: (a) from the perspective of the sources of spending; and (b) from the perspective of the uses of the income produced. Bringing these two perspectives (of the same thing) together generates the sectoral balances.

From the sources perspective we write:

GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

which says that total national income (GDP) is the sum of total final consumption spending (C), total private investment (I), total government spending (G) and net exports (X – M).

From the uses perspective, national income (GDP) can be used for:

GDP = C + S + T

which says that GDP (income) ultimately comes back to households who consume (C), save (S) or pay taxes (T) with it once all the distributions are made.

Equating these two perspectives we get:

C + S + T = GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

So after simplification (but obeying the equation) we get the sectoral balances view of the national accounts.

(I – S) + (G – T) + (X – M) = 0

That is the three balances have to sum to zero.

You can also write this as:

(S – I) + (T – G) = (X – M)

Which gives an easier interpretation (especially in relation to this question).

The sectoral balances derived are:

• The private domestic balance (S – I) – positive if in surplus, negative if in deficit.
• The Budget balance (T – G) – positive if in surplus, negative if in deficit.
• The Current Account balance (X – M) – positive if in surplus, negative if in deficit.

These balances are usually expressed as a per cent of GDP but that doesn’t alter the accounting rules that they sum to zero, it just means the balance to GDP ratios sum to zero.

Using this version of the sectoral balance framework:

(S – I) + (T – G) = (X – M)

So the domestic balance (left-hand side) – which is the sum of the private domestic sector and the government sector equals the external balance.

For the left-hand side of the equation to be positive (that is, in surplus overall) and the individual sectoral components to be in surplus overall, the right-hand side has to be positive (that is, an external surplus) and of sufficient magnitude.

This is also a basic rule derived from the national accounts and has to apply at all times.

The following graph and accompanying table shows a 8-period sequence where for the first four years the nation is running an external deficit (2 per cent of GDP) and for the last four year the external sector is in surplus (2 per cent of GDP).

For the question to be true we should never see the government surplus (T – G > 0) and the private domestic surplus (S – I > 0) simultaneously occurring – which in the terms of the graph will be the green and navy bars being above the zero line together.

You see that in the first four periods that never occurs which tells you that when there is an external deficit (X – M < 0) the private domestic and government sectors cannot simultaneously run surpluses, no matter how hard they might try. The income adjustments will always force one or both of the sectors into deficit.

The sum of the private domestic surplus and government surplus has to equal the external surplus. So that condition defines the situations when the private domestic sector and the government sector can simultaneously spend less than they earn by drawing on the dis-saving of the foreign sector.

It is only in Period 5 that we see the condition satisfied (see red circle).

That is because the private and government balances (both surpluses) exactly equal the external surplus.

So if a national government was able to pursue an austerity program with a burgeoning external sector then the private domestic sector would be able to save overall (that is, spend less than they earn – which is not the same thing as the household sector saving from disposable income).

Going back to the sequence, if the private domestic sector tried to push for higher saving overall (say in Period 6), national income would fall (because overall spending fell) and the government surplus would vanish as the automatic stabilisers responded with lower tax revenue and higher welfare payments.

Periods 7 and 8 show what happens when the private domestic sector runs deficits with an external surplus. The combination of the external surplus and the private domestic deficit adding to demand drives the automatic stabilisers to push the government fsical balance into further surplus as economic activity is high. But this growth scenario is unsustainable because it implies an increasing level of indebtedness overall for the private domestic sector which has finite limits. Eventually, that sector will seek to stabilise its balance sheet (which means households and firms will start to save overall). That would reduce domestic income and the fiscal balance would move back into deficit (or a smaller surplus) depending on the size of the external surplus.

So what is the economic understanding that underpin these different situations?

If the nation is running an external deficit it means that the contribution to aggregate demand from the external sector is negative – that is net drain of spending – dragging output down.

The external deficit also means that foreigners are increasing financial claims denominated in the local currency. Given that exports represent a real cost and imports a real benefit, the motivation for a nation running a net exports surplus (the exporting nation in this case) must be to accumulate financial claims (assets) denominated in the currency of the nation running the external deficit.

A fiscal surplus also means the government is spending less than it is “earning” and that puts a drag on aggregate demand and constrains the ability of the economy to grow.

In these circumstances, for income to be stable, the private domestic sector has to spend more than they earn.

You can see this by going back to the aggregate demand relations above. For those who like simple algebra we can manipulate the aggregate demand model to see this more clearly.

Y = GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

which says that the total national income (Y or GDP) is the sum of total final consumption spending (C), total private investment (I), total government spending (G) and net exports (X – M).

So if the G is spending less than it is “earning” and the external sector is adding less income (X) than it is absorbing spending (M), then the other spending components must be greater than total income.

Only when the government fiscal deficit supports aggregate demand at income levels which permit the overall private domestic sector to save out of that income will the latter achieve its desired outcome. At this point, income and employment growth are maximised and private debt levels will be stable.

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

Question 2:

The share of national income going to profits has expanded over the last 30 years in many nations because employers have successfully suppressed real wages growth.

A declining rate of real wages growth is not even a necessary condition for a falling wage share (rising profit share).

Abstracting from the share of national income going to government, we can divide national income into the proportion going to workers (the “wage share”) and the proportion going to capital (the “profits share”). For the profit share to rise, the wage share has to fall (given the proportion going to government is relatively constant over time).

The wage share in nominal GDP is expressed as the total wage bill as a percentage of nominal GDP. Economists differentiate between nominal GDP (\$GDP), which is total output produced at market prices and real GDP (GDP), which is the actual physical equivalent of the nominal GDP. We will come back to that distinction soon.

To compute the wage share we need to consider total labour costs in production and the flow of production (\$GDP) each period.

Employment (L) is a stock and is measured in persons (averaged over some period like a month or a quarter or a year.

The wage bill is a flow and is the product of total employment (L) and the average wage (w) prevailing at any point in time. Stocks (L) become flows if it is multiplied by a flow variable (W). So the wage bill is the total labour costs in production per period.

So the wage bill = W.L

The wage share is just the total labour costs expressed as a proportion of \$GDP – (W.L)/\$GDP in nominal terms, usually expressed as a percentage. We can actually break this down further.

Labour productivity (LP) is the units of real GDP per person employed per period. Using the symbols already defined this can be written as:

LP = GDP/L

so it tells us what real output (GDP) each labour unit that is added to production produces on average.

We can also define another term that is regularly used in the media – the real wage – which is the purchasing power equivalent on the nominal wage that workers get paid each period. To compute the real wage we need to consider two variables: (a) the nominal wage (W) and the aggregate price level (P).

We might consider the aggregate price level to be measured by the consumer price index (CPI) although there are huge debates about that. But in a sense, this macroeconomic price level doesn’t exist but represents some abstract measure of the general movement in all prices in the economy.

Macroeconomics is hard to learn because it involves these abstract variables that are never observed – like the price level, like “the interest rate” etc. They are just stylisations of the general tendency of all the different prices and interest rates.

Now the nominal wage (W) – that is paid by employers to workers is determined in the labour market – by the contract of employment between the worker and the employer. The price level (P) is determined in the goods market – by the interaction of total supply of output and aggregate demand for that output although there are complex models of firm price setting that use cost-plus mark-up formulas with demand just determining volume sold. We shouldn’t get into those debates here.

The inflation rate is just the continuous growth in the price level (P). A once-off adjustment in the price level is not considered by economists to constitute inflation.

So the real wage (w) tells us what volume of real goods and services the nominal wage (W) will be able to command and is obviously influenced by the level of W and the price level. For a given W, the lower is P the greater the purchasing power of the nominal wage and so the higher is the real wage (w).

We write the real wage (w) as W/P. So if W = 10 and P = 1, then the real wage (w) = 10 meaning that the current wage will buy 10 units of real output. If P rose to 2 then w = 5, meaning the real wage was now cut by one-half.

So the proposition in the question – that nominal wages grow faster than inflation – tells us that the real wage is rising.

Nominal GDP (\$GDP) can be written as P.GDP, where the P values the real physical output.

Now if you put of these concepts together you get an interesting framework. To help you follow the logic here are the terms developed and be careful not to confuse \$GDP (nominal) with GDP (real):

• Wage share = (W.L)/\$GDP
• Nominal GDP: \$GDP = P.GDP
• Labour productivity: LP = GDP/L
• Real wage: w = W/P

By substituting the expression for Nominal GDP into the wage share measure we get:

Wage share = (W.L)/P.GDP

In this area of economics, we often look for alternative way to write this expression – it maintains the equivalence (that is, obeys all the rules of algebra) but presents the expression (in this case the wage share) in a different “view”.

So we can write as an equivalent:

Wage share – (W/P).(L/GDP)

Now if you note that (L/GDP) is the inverse (reciprocal) of the labour productivity term (GDP/L). We can use another rule of algebra (reversing the invert and multiply rule) to rewrite this expression again in a more interpretable fashion.

So an equivalent but more convenient measure of the wage share is:

Wage share = (W/P)/(GDP/L) – that is, the real wage (W/P) divided by labour productivity (GDP/L).

I won’t show this but I could also express this in growth terms such that if the growth in the real wage equals labour productivity growth the wage share is constant. The algebra is simple but we have done enough of that already.

That journey might have seemed difficult to non-economists (or those not well-versed in algebra) but it produces a very easy to understand formula for the wage share.

Two other points to note. The wage share is also equivalent to the real unit labour cost (RULC) measures that Treasuries and central banks use to describe trends in costs within the economy. Please read my blog – Saturday Quiz – May 15, 2010 – answers and discussion – for more discussion on this point.

Now it becomes obvious that if the nominal wage (W) grows faster than the price level (P) then the real wage is growing. But that doesn’t automatically lead to a growing wage share. So the blanket proposition stated in the question is false.

If the real wage is growing at the same rate as labour productivity, then both terms in the wage share ratio are equal and so the wage share is constant.

If the real wage is growing but labour productivity is growing faster, then the wage share will fall.

Only if the real wage is growing faster than labour productivity , will the wage share rise.

The wage share was constant for a long time during the Post Second World period and this constancy was so marked that Kaldor (the Cambridge economist) termed it one of the great “stylised” facts. So real wages grew in line with productivity growth which was the source of increasing living standards for workers.

The productivity growth provided the “room” in the distribution system for workers to enjoy a greater command over real production and thus higher living standards without threatening inflation.

Since the mid-1980s, the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights (trade union attacks; deregulation; privatisation; persistently high unemployment) has seen this nexus between real wages and labour productivity growth broken. So while real wages have been stagnant or growing modestly, this growth has been dwarfed by labour productivity growth.

So the question is false because you have to consider labour productivity growth in addition to real wages growth before you can make conclusions about the movements in factor shares in national income.

The following blog may be of further interest to you:

Question 3:

The Australian dollar has appreciated in recent days and there are claims this will harm our international competitiveness unless local workers accept a cut in nominal wages and the rate of inflation is contained.

This question also applies to the EMU nations who cannot adjust their nominal exchange rate but are seeking export-led demand boosts as they cut government spending.

The temptation is to accept the dominant theme that is emerging from the public debate – that the appreciating dollar requires tighter domestic wage and price conditions.

However, deflating an economy under these circumstance will not guarantee that a nation’s external competitiveness will be increased.

We have to differentiate several concepts: (a) the nominal exchange rate; (b) domestic price levels; (c) unit labour costs; and (d) the real or effective exchange rate.

It is the last of these concepts that determines the “competitiveness” of a nation. This Bank of Japan explanation of the real effective exchange rate is informative. Their English-language services are becoming better by the year.

Nominal exchange rate (e)

The nominal exchange rate (e) is the number of units of one currency that can be purchased with one unit of another currency. There are two ways in which we can quote a bi-lateral exchange rate. Consider the relationship between the \$A and the \$US.

• The amount of Australian currency that is necessary to purchase one unit of the US currency (\$US1) can be expressed. In this case, the \$US is the (one unit) reference currency and the other currency is expressed in terms of how much of it is required to buy one unit of the reference currency. So \$A1.60 = \$US1 means that it takes \$1.60 Australian to buy one \$US.
• Alternatively, e can be defined as the amount of US dollars that one unit of Australian currency will buy (\$A1). In this case, the \$A is the reference currency. So, in the example above, this is written as \$US0.625= \$A1. Thus if it takes \$1.60 Australian to buy one \$US, then 62.5 cents US buys one \$A. (i) is just the inverse of (ii), and vice-versa.

So to understand exchange rate quotations you must know which is the reference currency. In the remaining I use the first convention so e is the amount of \$A which is required to buy one unit of the foreign currency.

International competitiveness

Are Australian goods and services becoming more or less competitive with respect to goods and services produced overseas? To answer the question we need to know about:

• movements in the exchange rate, ee; and
• relative inflation rates (domestic and foreign).

Clearly within the EMU, the nominal exchange rate is fixed between nations so the changes in competitiveness all come down to the second source and here foreign means other nations within the EMU as well as nations beyond the EMU.

There are also non-price dimensions to competitiveness, including quality and reliability of supply, which are assumed to be constant.

We can define the ratio of domestic prices (P) to the rest of the world (Pw) as Pw/P.

For a nation running a flexible exchange rate, and domestic prices of goods, say in the USA and Australia remaining unchanged, a depreciation in Australia’s exchange means that our goods have become relatively cheaper than US goods. So our imports should fall and exports rise. An exchange rate appreciation has the opposite effect which is what is occurring at present.

But this option is not available to an EMU nation so the only way goods in say Greece can become cheaper relative to goods in say, Germany is for the relative price ratio (Pw/P) to change:

• If Pw is rising faster than P, then Greek goods are becoming relatively cheaper within the EMU; and
• If Pw is rising slower than P, then Greek goods are becoming relatively more expensive within the EMU.

The inverse of the relative price ratio, namely (P/Pw) measures the ratio of export prices to import prices and is known as the terms of trade.

The real exchange rate

Movements in the nominal exchange rate and the relative price level (Pw/P) need to be combined to tell us about movements in relative competitiveness. The real exchange rate captures the overall impact of these variables and is used to measure our competitiveness in international trade.

The real exchange rate (R) is defined as:

R = (e.Pw/P) (2)

where P is the domestic price level specified in \$A, and Pw is the foreign price level specified in foreign currency units, say \$US.

The real exchange rate is the ratio of prices of goods abroad measured in \$A (ePw) to the \$A prices of goods at home(P). So the real exchange rate, R adjusts the nominal exchange rate, e for the relative price levels.

For example, assume P = \$A10 and Pw = \$US8, and e = 1.60. In this case R = (8×1.6)/10 = 1.28. The \$US8 translates into \$A12.80 and the US produced goods are more expensive than those in Australia by a ratio of 1.28, ie 28%.

A rise in the real exchange rate can occur if:

• the nominal e depreciates; and/or
• Pw rises more than P, other things equal.

A rise in the real exchange rate should increase our exports and reduce our imports.

A fall in the real exchange rate can occur if:

• the nominal e appreciates; and/or
• Pw rises less than P, other things equal.

A fall in the real exchange rate should reduce our exports and increase our imports.

In the case of the EMU nation we have to consider what factors will drive Pw/P up and increase the competitive of a particular nation.

If prices are set on unit labour costs, then the way to decrease the price level relative to the rest of the world is to reduce unit labour costs faster than everywhere else.

Unit labour costs are defined as cost per unit of output and are thus ratios of wage (and other costs) to output. If labour costs are dominant (we can ignore other costs for the moment) so total labour costs are the wage rate times total employment = w.L. Real output is Y.

So unit labour costs (ULC) = w.L/Y.

L/Y is the inverse of labour productivity(LP) so ULCs can be expressed as the w/(Y/L) = w/LP.

So if the rate of growth in wages is faster than labour productivity growth then ULCs rise and vice-versa. So one way of cutting ULCs is to cut wage levels which is what the austerity programs in the EMU nations (Ireland, Greece, Portugal etc) are attempting to do.

But LP is not constant. If morale falls, sabotage rises, absenteeism rises and overall investment falls in reaction to the extended period of recession and wage cuts then productivity is likely to fall as well. Thus there is no guarantee that ULCs will fall by any significant amount.

Further, the reduction in nominal wage levels threatens the contractual viability of workers (with mortgages etc). It is likely that the cuts in wages would have to be so severe that widespread mortgage defaults etc would result. The instability that this would lead to makes the final outcome uncertain.

Given all these qualifications, the answer is false. External competitive will not be automatically restored by deflating nominal wages and price levels.

You might like to read this blog for further information:

### This Post Has 5 Comments

1. Slightly off topic – apologies.

I’m looking for a way of trying to calculate levels of inflation, and recession, given the level of aggregate demand and total production.

Say we have 100 units of AD and 100 units of production then everything balances.

If we have 105 units of AD and 100 units of production, we get 5% inflation ?

But what about 95 units of AD and 100 units of production? I don’t believe we get 5% deflation. Just a certain level of recession and a smaller level of deflation. But how do we calculate that?

2. Kingsley Lewis says:

The purported “expanation” given above for Q2 is mostly mere algebra, and the answer given is probably wrong.

Whether Q2 is true or false depends on historical facts, not mere algebra.
If historically employers suppressed real wages growth to below the rate of productivity growth then the answer is to Q2 is TRUE, not false.

So lets consider facts. Employers certainly did try to restrain/supress wage growth. They probably succeeded in this to some extent, aided by what Prof. Mitchell calls “the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights”.
Therefore, employers resistance to wage increases was probably at least part of the explanation for wages rising slower than productivity.
Therefore, the answer to Q2 is that it is probably at least PARTLY TRUE that the decline in labour’s share was due to employers supression of wage increases.
Therefore, without any better facts, the answer to Q2 cannot be “false”.

3. Kingsley Lewis says:

Whether Q3 is true or false depends on empirical facts.
Prof. Mitchell correctly points out that: “External competitiveness will not be automatically restored by deflating nominal wages and price levels”.
He mentions the possibility of higher rates of sabotage & absenteeism and declines in morale and investment.
However, he fails to give any empirical evidence that such factors will ENTIRELY CANCEL OUT the competitive gains from lower wages, and therefore his “explanation” fails to justify his answer to Q3.
In the absence of such evidence, a better answer to Q3 is “PROBABLY TRUE”.

4. Dear Kingsley Lewis (at 2015/05/17 at 14:52 and 15:41)

You often appear to want to refute the answers based on some contrived mainstream notion of what ‘should’ be rather than considering the wording of the question as a logical construct.

Q2 is obviously false and that conclusion does not depend on algebra or historical facts. It depends on whether real wage suppression is a sufficient condition for the outcome proposed. It is not, and therefore the answer is false. Even if real wages were suppressed the wage share could rise if productivity more slowly.

Equally, Q3 is also obviously false and doesn’t depend on historical facts. The question poses a situation and proposes a remedy with the proviso “unless”, meaning if that condition was met, the outcome proposed would be averted. Again the “unless” remedy is not a sufficient condition. So the conclusion is that the statement has to be false.

I am only bothering to answer you unhelpful interventions because you are misleading the other readers of my blog, and the quizzes have educational value and should be understood as such.

best wishes
bill

5. Kingsley Lewis says:

Prof. Mitchell, sincerely, many thanks for all your blogs, quizzes etc, etc.
I will understand if you don’t publish this further comment.
I am persisting now because I fear you are making a serious methodological error.

You say that the answers to Q2 and Q3 are obviously “false” on the grounds that the factors mentioned in the questions are not sufficient conditions.
However, a factor X can influence or cause Y irrespective of whether or not it is a necessary or sufficient condition for Y.

Questions about whether X influenced Y in the past or may do so in the future require empirical analysis and data. This was the point of my comments, which perhaps you failed to notice.