Daniel Alpert, sicer investicijski bankir in kolumnist ter avtor knjige “The Age of Oversupply“, ima dobro pojasnilo za sedanje stanje presežnega varčevanja (savings glut). To je posledica – v globalnem merilu – presežne ponudbe (proizvodov), slednje pa posledica v globalnem merilu presežne ponudbe dela. Oboje pa je posledica globalizacije – v obdobju zadnjih 25 let se je število v globalno proizvodnjo vključenih zaposlenih povečalo iz 800 mio na 3 milijarde ljudi. In podjetja, ki zaposlujejo te ljudi, preprosto proizvedejo bistveno več kot lahko porabimo. In ker se proizvodni (in izvozni) presežki kopičijo na na eni strani sveta, se na drugi strani kopiči izvoženi kapital, ki išče naložbe. Produktivnih naložb v razvitih državah je že zdavnaj zmanjkalo, zato presežno varčevanje polni finančne in nepremičninske balone. Ustvarja finančne krize. In temu ni videti konca. Dokler se povpraševanje ne poveča, se tudi rast ne more odlepiti od dna.
Iz te situacije se ni mogoče potegniti s tradicionalnimi ukrepi. Zniževanje davkov ali dvig subvencij podjetjem ne more dvigniti gospodarske rasti, če pa se že zdaj ubadamo s presežno ponudbo. Znižanje obrestnih mer na ničlo ne more spodbuditi novih investicij, saj se podjetja že zdaj ubadajo s presežnimi kapacitetami. Edini izhod iz krize je, kot Alpert ponovno poudarja v članku Glut, v povečanju agregatnega povpraševanja, to pa pomeni predvsem ogromne javne naložbe v infrastrukturo – transport, energetika, telekomunikacije, javno šolstvo in zdravstvo itd. To bi zaposlilo domača podjetja in to bi ustvarilo nova delovna mesta. Seveda pa to pomeni javno financiranje in povečanje javne zadolžitve (po sicer ekstremno nizki ceni). Samo javna intervencija lahko razreši past, v katero se je zaradi pretirane uspešnosti in učinkovitosti ujel zasebni sektor.
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Since 2005, when former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke first made reference to a Global Savings Glut,1 his hypothesis has undergone both supportive and critical analysis, for the most part concurring that, yes, something odd was going on. A substantial amount of global capital was remaining unutilized or underutilized and not recycled into investment or used for consumption. By 2008, I had concluded that—if anything—Bernanke had understated the import and dimensions of his observations, and that the global economy was experiencing something that centuries of academic discourse would have thought impossible. There was, and remains, a global oversupply of labor, productive capacity, production, and capital, all (except, at times, labor) being things that were classically thought to be ever-scarce relative to the demand therefor. Something, indeed, had happened, and it was, I concluded, substantially related to the rather sudden emergence of the post-socialist, or semi-socialist nations (China, Russia, Brazil, India and others), into full-blown economic competition with the developed nations. As I wrote in the introduction to my 2013 book:
“In the time it takes to raise a child and pack her off to college, the world order that existed in the early 1990s has disappeared. Some three billion people who once lived in sleepy or sclerotic statist economies are now part of the global economy. Many compete directly with workers in the United States, Europe, and Japan in a world bound together by lightning-fast communications. Countries that were once poor now find themselves with huge surpluses of wealth. And the rich countries of the world, while still rich, struggle with monumental levels of debt—both private and public—and unsettling questions about whether they can compete globally.”3
The suddenness and extent of the integration of over 3 billion people into a global capitalist market, that really only hitherto consisted of about 800 million in the advanced economies, produced not only the imbalances and glut conditions that have been written about extensively since the Great Recession, but have echoed in the many crises since then. We continue to experience a low interest rate and disinflationary environment and a slew of other economic phenomena that might not typically be thought of as being associated with—but are actually triggered by— the oversupply itself. These include, among other things, declining productivity and falling labor force participation; inflation in real estate and stock markets, the value of the U.S. dollar, and even stock buybacks; swollen executive compensation; and increasing income and wealth polarization since the recession, to say nothing of the global financial crisis itself. More about all that later.
It is important to note two things related to the foregoing. First, that the classically virtuous cycle (or circle) of expanded growth, spending, savings and investment has been essentially blocked up in the U.S. by the age of oversupply. Capital is being hoarded and not reinvested in additional employment-producing assets (plants, equipment, etc.) by much of the U.S. private sector, simply because there is already an excess of global capacity relative to global demand for production. Second, that this is not a short-term phenomenon. The failure of the developed economies to recover robustly ever since the Great Recession is, in this writer’s opinion, proof positive that oversupply is not something that will be absorbed by conventional business cycle dynamics. And absent the recognition of this fact in the form of targeted policy to counter its effects, the developed economies will remain in a low-growth demi-slump for a lengthy period of time.
Let’s also take a moment to define global demand, because that is a subject that all too often proves confusing. The layperson might say, “Well, surely, there are many of our own poor and many more people in less developed countries who certainly desire a far higher standard of living—don’t they comprise a source of virtually unlimited demand for the products and services produced by the rest of us?” Economic demand is, however, measured in dollars and other currencies, not desire or desperation. To obtain a higher living standard, those less fortunate must obtain the money to do so, and, short of robbing banks, that happens principally via gainful employment.
And therein lies the insidious rub of the prevailing oversupply of labor and production. It is simply not profitable, until the excess of production relative to economic demand, for the U.S. private sector to invest in additional plants and equipment so as to employ substantially more people (As of the end of the third quarter of 2015, relative to population growth, the U.S. still remained 2.6 million jobs short of pre-recession levels on a population adjusted basis.) It is arguably equally senseless to raise the wages of those already employed as long as there remains a line of others (both domestically and, in the tradeables sectors, abroad) willing to take their place. Hence the falling labor share of GDP and the net stagnant or declining real wages that have prevailed since the late 1990s.
All of this would sound rather dire and intractable were it not for the existence of that mountain of stranded global savings referred to earlier. The blocked virtuous circle of consumption/spending→profits→savings→investment→employment and ultimately back to more consumption, can be repaired, but it is foolish to expect the private sector to do so on its own. And the principal disconnect in center-right policy today is that it asks and expects the private sector to do things that are not profitable—not even at low prevailing interest rates, not even at low levels of taxation, and not even with banks stuffed full of money to lend—namely, to expand and overinvest in the face of oversupply. The private sector is not in business to lose money.
The lesson to be drawn from the above is that the United States’ global competitors (emerging and advanced economies alike) are fighting hard for whatever share they can obtain of insufficient global demand and, for the most part collectively, prevailing. And we must assume that this state of affairs will continue into the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, we have another agent that can use the stranded savings and offset the most detrimental impacts of global competition, and, in doing so, unblock the virtuous flow of capital—and that is, of course, the public sector. And we are not without the ability to, in a geopolitically realistic manner, address the global economic imbalances that have hobbled the U.S. and much of the rest of the developed world since the accelerated emergence of the post-socialist countries.
In order to avoid more of the same sluggish economic results, in order to revitalize the middle class and reduce the levels of wealth and income polarization in the U.S., there is one thing we need to do above all else: Absorb excess labor via an intensive revitalization of our public infrastructure via public sector spending.
The underutilization of labor, the lack of growth, the continued falling share of labor as a percent of GDP—all of these issues and more—are the result not of depressed wages or insufficient job formation counts; they are the result of an insufficient amount of work relative to the body of labor willing to work. Increase the demand for labor, and all other issues—wage levels, price reflation, productivity and the reswitching dilemma, capital spending, and even zero interest rates—take care of themselves … it really is that simple.
Vir: Daniel Alpert, Third way