Business Cycle Indicators, Consumption, Globalization and Monetary Policy

Business Cycle Indicators:

Period           Swing in Unemployment   Swing in Nonfarm Unemployment    Proportion of Time in Recession
1870-1910    2.3%                                 4.4%                                                            NA
1886-1915    2.9%                                 4.8%                                                             22%
1901-1930    1.4%                                 1.9%                                                             30%
1916-1945    7.2%                                  8.7%                                                            28%
1931-1945    8.1%                                  10.1%                                                          18%
1946-1975    1.2%                                  1.3%                                                            19%
1976-1998    1.3%                                  1.3%                                                            11%
1946-1998    1.5%                                  1.5%                                                            15%

We must not imagine that change is over- it will continue. We are able to already see some of the future changes that will transform the macro-economy in the future.

The raise in financial flexibility that allows consumers to borrow will continue. The raise in financial flexibility will as well make it more difficult to read the financial markets--and is therefore likely to make monetary policy somewhat more difficult to conduct. International trade will carry on expanding. The likelihood is that international investments will become easier to make as well as so the speed with which capital flows across national borders will increase. And labor markets are probable to continue to change as well.


Already liquidity constraints the inability to borrow as well as the consequent fact that consumption spending is limited by income--play a relatively small role in determining consumption spending in America. They certainly a much slighter role than they played at the beginning of this century or even early in the post-World War II period. Economists’ theories notify us that if liquidity constraints are absent then the marginal propensity to consume must be very low. The level of consumption must depend on one’s estimate of one’s lifetime resources as well as be affected by changes current income only to the extent that changes in current income change one’s estimate of lifetime resources.

Now economists’ theories may perhaps overstate the case. Bind your current level of spending to your current level of income is a reasonable rule-of-thumb for managing one’s affairs. And it just is not worth the time spent to do better than one does by using reasonable rules-of-thumb. Therefore the marginal propensity to consume may perhaps remain at some noticeable fraction and increasing ease of borrowing may not lead the multiplier to completely disappear. However the multiplier is likely to grow still smaller over time. It will certainly play a smaller role in the economy (and in economic policy, and in economics textbooks) in the future.


The future is probable to see international trade continue to expand. improved trade will further lower the multiplier- a greater portion of changes in domestic spending will show up as changes in demand for foreign-made goods. Therefore the economy at home will be even less vulnerable to domestic shocks that disturb employment as well as output. On the other hand improved international integration means that the domestic economy is more vulnerable to foreign shocks- recession abroad that lowers demand for exports will have repercussions at home.

Accompanying the raise in international trade will be a raise in the magnitude of international financial flows as well. The probabilities are that international investments will become easier to make. And the odds are as signifies of international communication increase that investors in one country will become much more confident in making investments in another. Therefore the speed with which capital flows across national borders will increase.

Yet we have just seen that improved flow of capital across national borders is a potential source of financial crisis and macroeconomic volatility. In the East Asian crisis of 1997-98 a unexpected shift in investors’ expectations that meant that $100 billion a year in international capital flows that had financed investment in East Asia was no longer there. That $100 billion a year had finance the employment of 20 million people working in built roads, who dug sewer lines, investment industries, erected buildings and installed machines as both domestic and foreign investors bet that there was lots of money to be made in East Asia's industrial revolution. These 20 million East Asian workers had to get new jobs outside of investment industries.

The reduce in the value of East Asian currencies has gone a long way to bringing the supply of and demand for foreign exchange back into balance. Falling exchange rates formulate East Asian goods more attractive to European and American purchasers. East Asia's economies are rising rapidly again

Monetary Policy:

The raise in financial flexibility that reduces the multiplier will as well make it more difficult to read the financial markets. It is as well likely to make it somewhat more difficult to conduct monetary policy. Monetary policy works after all for the reason that the central bank’s open market operations change interest rates. The central banks open market processes have huge effects on interest rates because the assets traded- Treasury bills on the one hand as well as reserve deposits at regional Federal Reserve banks on the other hand- play key roles in finance. There are only some substitute assets that can serve the functions that they serve.

However as financial flexibility increases any one kind of asset will become less as well as less of a bottleneck. There will be more as well as more ways of structuring transactions. More and more types of financial instruments will be traded. Therefore in the future it is likely that changes in the supply of Treasury bills will have less of an effect on interest rates than they do today. Open market operations are probable to become somewhat less effective as well as monetary policy somewhat more difficult to conduct in the future.

Will this make a great deal of a difference? No one knows.


Fourth and last of the changes that we are able to foresee is that improvements in information technology will improve businesses’ ability to control their inventories. Mismatches among production and demand- unanticipated large-scale inventory accumulation or drawdown- have been a principal source of fluctuations in unemployment as well as output over the past century. There is reason to think that improved information technology will reduce this component of macroeconomic instability.

However how large this reduction will be is once again something that nobody knows.

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