More on the alienated proletariat

How is the immiseration of the proletariat going?

@MaxRashbrooke The top 1% in New Zealand are lazy and incompetent as a ruling class

The top 1% in New Zealand really have been dropping the class war ball for at least a generation.

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Source: The World Top Incomes Database.

Not only have the New Zealand top 1% been pretty miserable at increasing their share of incomes, hardly any change since 1990 and not much before that, the top 1% allowed inequality in both consumption and disposable income to actually fall since 1990 as shown by Treasury analysis published today.

Joan Robinson was on to this in the 1940s when she said the battle cry of Marxists would have to change from the 1848 version “rise up ye workers, rise up for you have nothing to lose but your chains” to “rise up ye workers, rise up for you have nothing to lose but the prospect of a suburban home and a motorcar”.

Today that battle cry of the Marxist revolution would have to be “rise up ye workers rise up for you have nothing to lose but your iPhone and your air points”. As Joan Robinson observed in the 1940s, that’s not much of a basis for a revolutionary movement.

Sorry @WJRosenbergCTU the class war has been based on a measurement error! The real class enemy is the RMA and restricted land supply – updated again

The other day, I replied to a rant by Bill Rosenberg about the decline in labour share of national income and its implications for income inequality and the great wage stagnation. The labour share of national income has dropped by at least 5% in most countries including New Zealand.

New data from the USA has found that the entire declining the value of the share of labour of national income is due to home ownership:

…the net capital share has increased since 1948, but when disaggregated this increase comes entirely from the housing sector: the contribution to net capital income from all other sectors has been zero or slightly negative, as the fall and rise have offset each other.

The capital share is rising because of the increased value of housing in countries with widespread home ownership. The concentration of capital ownership and wealth in the top 1% was a misplaced concern based on measurement error.

https://twitter.com/EconBizFin/status/581047721836060672

Piketty assumed the returns to capital were increasing across the entire economy. Rognlie found the trend to be almost entirely isolated to the housing sector. His 23 page long conference paper at the Brookings Institution started as a comment on a blog post on Marginal Revolution.

NewImage

Source: Brad DeLong

When Rognlie adjusted for the rapid depreciation inherent to investments in capital such as computer software, most of the rest of the increase in the capital share in recent decades in the USA and six other countries has came in housing.

Source: Business Insider

A single sector such as housing is not the force that is shaping past and future of inequality as Piketty and others such as Bill Rosenberg in New Zealand have assumed. They attributed a growing share of income going to capital across the board as Tyler Cowan explains.

In the simplest version of the Piketty model, wealth grows more quickly than does the economy as a whole and thus the picture changes. The relative losers are no longer low earners but rather anyone who is not a capitalist. Any disparity is due not to their shortcomings in labour markets but rather to their lack of a high initial endowment.

The main driver of inequality is the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth and company shares, businesses and other capital are owned by a narrow section of the community, and in particular by the top 1% of income earners. Trends in housing prices and the comings and goings of intangible capital is not part of that story.

Image: Intangible capital

Investment and depreciation of software and other intellectual property is not well handed, or even well measured in current national accounting systems as Edward Prescott has shown in a long research programme dating back 10 years. Intangible capital produced and owned by businesses is known to be big part of all investment in the economy but nearly all  of it is recorded as an expense and therefore most is not part of GDP as currently measured.

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Source: Edward C. Prescott and Ellen R. McGrattan (2014)

Prescott estimated the value of intangible capital to be equal to about 60% of that of tangible capital in the US economy. Incorrect treatment of investment in intangible capital seriously underestimates investment, output, fluctuations in labour productivity and movements in the capital shares. The graph above shows that the recently introduced intellectual property classification in the US national accounts is both large and volatile relative to equipment and structures investments over the last 40 years. The graph below shows that including intangible capital completely changes the predictions of real business cycle models about trend US labour productivity in the 1990s.

Labor Productivity, for the Model, With and Without Intangible Investment (Real, Detrended) 1990-2003

Chart: Labor Productivity, for the Model, With and Without Intangible Investment (Real, Detrended) 1990-2003

Source: McGrattan and Prescott, 2005, “Expensed and Sweat Equity,” Research Department Working Paper 636, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

This depreciation adjustment for software investment is important because you can’t eat depreciation, as a shrewd observer noted. The rapid depreciation of software is depreciation – it cannot be redistributed from the top 1% to the downtrodden workers as some sort of income. Others have also earlier argued that Piketty’s claims rest on the recent increase in the price of housing.

NewImage

Source: Brad DeLong

The main reason for increases in the price of housing in New Zealand and elsewhere is restrictions on the supply of land by local councils. They are the real class enemy.

urban limit

The metropolitan urban limit in Auckland increases land prices by 9 fold just inside that limit. As Tim Taylor said today:

The rise in capital income as a result of a long-term rise in land and housing prices across the high-income countries is a phenomenon that isn’t easily crammed into the usual disputes over whether capital owners are exploiting wage-earners.

The role of the housing sector and restrictions on land supply driving up housing prices in recent decades in shaping the future of inequality is perhaps underplayed given the many discussions of Generation Rent.

Generation rent: The Office for National Statistics revealed how the proportion of home owners has fallen in the last decade for the first time in a century

Housing affordability is a real crisis in New Zealand and many other countries with the younger generation no longer able to buy a house. They are condemned to decades of renting a house. They may never be able to afford a house on one income and perhaps two ordinary comes.

The future of inequality is between those who can and cannot afford a dream and a right for their parents and grandparents, which was to buy a house and pay the mortgage off within a couple of decades.

Source: Transport Blog

Young people used to buy a house shortly after leaving university and paid it off by their middle age when I was in my 20s and 30s. Back then, which was not all that long ago, ordinary workers could aspire to take out a mortgage and buy a house in the suburbs.

Rising house prices, lower wage growth and tighter lending rules have made it harder to get on the property ladder

Unless there is a major deregulation of the supply of land in the big cities, home ownership for most in the community will really be a dream, rather than a dream of aspiration achieved  by most by their 30s, if not often earlier through working and saving. The grandchildren of the baby boomers will become and perhaps already are Generation Rent.

Zero hours contracts prevalence, the class struggle and the gales of creative destruction

number of zero hours contracts in UK

Source: Use of zero hours contracts rises to record levels | City A.M.

The number of workers on zero hours contracts has certainly exploded in the UK, going from about 100,000 to 700,000 in about five years. The UK data also suggests that most of these contracts will be in the accommodation and food services sector.

workers on zero hour contracts in UK by sector

Source: Use of zero hours contracts rises to record levels | City A.M.

Zero hours contracts is creative destruction at work in the labour market, sweeping away obsolete working time arrangements, mostly in the retail services sector.

Innovation is the market introduction of a technical or organisational novelty, not just its invention.  - Joseph Schumpeter

Zero hours contracts is creative destruction at work in the labour market, sweeping away obsolete working arrangements mostly in the retail services sector.

New Zealand data is hard to come by on zero hours contracts. Data on working hours arrangements is in the Survey of Working Life which is conducted every couple of years. This survey doesn’t give any data directly on the prevalence of zero hours contracts, but it does tell you how many people are temporary employees and among these, who is a casual and seasonal employee and whether they have regular hours.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

The first thing can be said about the prevalence of zero hours contracts in New Zealand is two years ago the number of workers both male and female who were casual, fixed term and temp agency workers was relatively small. Less than one in 20 male workers was a casual worker; 3% of male workers was on a fixed term or temp agency worker. For women, 6% were casual workers and 4.9% were either fixed term or temp agency workers.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

Temporary employment is most common In the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors, which is no surprise because of the prevalence seasonal workers in that sector.The retail trade accommodation and food sectors is not the next cab off the rank for temporary employment. Temporary employment is rather common in the education and professional science sectors.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

In the retail trade commendation and food services worker, 90% of all employees are still permanent. There are about 32,000 workers in the retail trade, accommodation and food services sectors.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

Among all casual employees across all sectors, 50% work standard hours and about 10% have no usual working time. That is, out of the 92,000 casual employees in New Zealand, about 9000 of them have no usual working times, which is the equivalent of a zero hours contract. No data was published by Statistics New Zealand on fixed term and temp  agency workers because the sample sizes were too small so the data was suppressed confidentiality reasons.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

For casual, fixed term and temp agency employees, it is commonplace for them to change their hours from week to week to suit the needs of their employees. The equivalent of zero hours contracts Is commonplace among employees who do not have permanent employment status. It goes with the territory. Those who want fixed hours seek permanent employment.

For zero hours employment to become common, this form of contract in over working time arrangements will have to be come more common among permanent employees. If that is so, such a trend will make the notion of a permanent employee somewhat vague considering these employees, although permanent, are not guaranteed regular hours.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

They are a happy lot are temporary employees. Pretty much enjoy their jobs as much as permanent employees do when it comes to their job and, by implication, that perennial left-wing bugbear, the inherent inequality of bargaining power between  the bosses and the workers and the violence inherent in the capitalist system. All is not well for the class war.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

What is worse for the future of the class struggle is that these temporary employees are rather happy lot when it comes to work life balance. Just as happy as permanent employees. Indeed, temporary or permanent employment status has no effect on job satisfaction and work life balance.

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Source: Survey of Working Life  December  Quarter 2012, Statistics New Zealand.

Rise up ye workers, rise up for you have nothing to lose but your zero hours contracts may have to be put on hold as the next battle cry of the class war in New Zealand. Indeed, a lot of consciousness-raising will be in store for our friends on the Left because the working class seem a rather happy lot in their jobs, slightly less grumpy than the middle class, and almost as happy as the ruling class.

capitalism rocks

Kicking in the rotted door of capitalism to bring on the permanent revolution has never been easy. Zero hours contracts just does not seem to be the new straw that will break the capitalists’ back any time soon. Workers seem to be rather happy with them or their equivalent that has been around for a long time in the labour market.

Critics overplay their hand if they suggest that somehow workers a very much disadvantaged and employers are holding all the cards. Job turnover and recruitment problems are a serious cost to a business. Workers will not sign contracts, such as zero hours contracts or casual work contracts if they are not to their advantage.

Super-Economy: The class struggle in one picture again

via Super-Economy: The class struggle in one picture.

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