By Raul Ilargi Meijer at The Automatic Earth
If you’re a girl and you’re old and you’re grey and you’re the size of a hobbit, who’s going to get angry at you? If your predecessor had all the qualities anyone could look for in a garden gnome, and his predecessor was known mainly as a forward drooling incoherent oracle, how bad could it get? Think they select Fed heads them on purpose for how well they would fit into the Shire?
Janet Yellen has a serious problem: the story no longer fits. The Fed under Bernanke said in its forward guidance that it would taper if certain job market conditions were met. And now they have been, at least on paper, but Yellen knows only too well that those are not the real numbers.
She’s acutely aware of how the BLS calculates US unemployment numbers. She knows about all the millions of people who are not counted as being in the labor force anymore, all the millions who are forced to work part time jobs, all those working more than one job just to make ends meet, and all of the above who simply don’t bring home enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills.
She knows it all, but she has to go by the official numbers, lest the US government looks like a bunch of manipulative inglourious lying basterds. So this afternoon she once again went off into that staple most boring and elaborate speech this side of your least favorite librarian. It’s a routine job for Janet.
But imagine, or maybe you don’t have to because you actively experience it on a daily basis, that you’re unemployed or you’re working 3 jobs or you’re simply just scraping by and still always falling behind, you got credit card debt, maybe a looming foreclosure. And then Janet Yellen speaks, at Jackson Hole, an event you will certainly never be invited to, but she talks about the policies she and her minions decide on that will greatly influence your life too.
How about this fine paragraph courtesy of her spin writers:
… wage developments reflect not only cyclical but also secular trends that have likely affected the evolution of labor’s share of income in recent years. As I noted, real wages have been rising less rapidly than productivity, implying that real unit labor costs have been declining, a pattern suggesting that there is scope for nominal wages to accelerate from their recent pace without creating meaningful inflationary pressure. However, research suggests that the decline in real unit labor costs may partly reflect secular factors that predate the recession, including changing patterns of production and international trade, as well as measurement issues. If so, productivity growth could continue to outpace real wage gains even when the economy is again operating at its potential.
If you’re an unemployed American, like millions of your fellow country(wo)men, what are you supposed to think about that, or do with it? If you’re busting your behind just to feed your kids, and perhaps provide a decent education for them, so they don’t end up in the streets in some gang or drug operation, what do those words mean?
Janet Yellen is not talking to you. But she IS talking about you. Just in a language you don’t understand. And that you’re not supposed to understand. Or she would choose to use different words. Yellen and her fellow ” the ring is mine” chasers won’t invite you to their meetings, and they won’t talk in a language that relates to you. They will, however, make decisions that affect your life, and often to a great extent.
What Yellen said in her speech today is that while she’s bound to go by the official numbers, she knows very well those numbers have very little to do with the reality Americans experience in their lives.
Which is why she says things like:
More jobs have now been created in the recovery than were lost in the downturn
And follows up with:
.. it speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover.
More jobs created than lost, but the job market hasn’t recovered. Go figure. Yellen could tell the BLS to redo their numbers, but instead says “the labor market has yet to fully recover”, which is a polite way of saying it’s a mess out there (always note the choice of words). More Yellen:
I would like to provide some context concerning the role of the labor market in shaping monetary policy over the past several years. During that time, the FOMC has maintained a highly accommodative monetary policy in pursuit of its congressionally mandated goals of maximum employment and stable prices.
This in nonsense, and she knows it very well. The Fed’s ‘highly accommodative monetary policy’ was never aimed at the job market, and even if it were, it failed so badly, once you count part time and poorly paid and not in the labor force, that it should have been abandoned. Instead, the policy was – always – aimed at keeping banks standing up, zombified as they are, at the cost of the people scrambling for their share of the jobs market, and their children too.
As the recovery progresses, assessments of the degree of remaining slack in the labor market need to become more nuanced because of considerable uncertainty about the level of employment consistent with the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate
How empty can a speech be? What does this have to do with Americans who only seek to feed their kids? How is this not mere gobbledy gook designed to put the unemployed to sleep while their few remaining future resources are being looted?
As an accounting matter, the drop in the participation rate since 2008 can be attributed to increases in four factors: retirement, disability, school enrollment, and other reasons, including worker discouragement. Of these, greater worker discouragement is most directly the result of a weak labor market, so we could reasonably expect further increases in labor demand to pull a sizable share of discouraged workers back into the workforce. Indeed, the flattening out of the labor force participation rate since late last year could partly reflect discouraged workers rejoining the labor force in response to the significant improvements that we have seen in labor market conditions. If so, the cyclical shortfall in labor force participation may have diminished.
I’m going to leave it at this as far as quotes are concerned. I’m bad at never ending empty. And that’s all Yellen has to offer.
Janet Yellen was brought up with the idea of economic cycles. The short term ones. She doesn’t look like a huge 70 year Kondratieff cycle afficionado.
The scary thing about these people is that they seem to believe in what they say. Which is based on some hodgepodge stew of Keynes and Milton Friedman, not exactly people with proven track records outside of college class rooms.
But wouldn’t you know, while Janet did her show and tell, the international financial press is overflowing with experts and analysts who insist Europe’s state is so bad that trillions of euros in not even yet existent taxpayer money must be thrown at whatever the problem is Europe have got.
The only counter voice is Germany, but Germany landed a negative GDP number. So the pressure on Draghi continues. From all the people who claim that QE has been such a great success in the US and UK. Which sounds cute as long as you don’t count all the debt added to get to what US and UK seem to be at now. Without adding that debt.
London and Washington look good for now, but then so does China, which has launched more debt into the new global stratosphere than anyone else. Will that end well? How about Japan, which has QE’d itself into a trough we will only see the true despair of as we go forward? How good do they make US and UK look? Beyond next week?
All these people who sing the praises of QE, and who say Europe should pour in a trillion or two, they live in their rear-view mirrors. Thay want to go back to what once was, and at all costs. But how realistic is that? And moreover, how wise is it? Do we really want to return, even if it were possible, to, let’s say, the situation of 10 years ago?
It may be tempting when you look at certain sets of numbers, like GDP growth and housing markets, but once you realize all that was achieved only through a huge accumulation of additional debt, is it still all that attractive? And do we really want to risk adding more debt, before the old piles are paid off or restructured, just to return there?
Europe’s problem is the entire western world’s problem: people don’t spend nearly enough to keep the economy growing. And it’s not as if nothing has been done to lure them into more spending. The thing is, you won’t get there by making them borrow. People will spend more only when they have more. But rapidly increasing numbers of them have precious little. And if they don’t spend, you’re not going to get more of the so-called inflation (which is defined as rising prices).
It’s a dead end street, the whole thing. There’s only one school left in economics, and it was never a serious field to start with, let alone a science. But the nincompoops who emanate from the various schools and universities end up having an enormous influence on government and central bank policies, all at the cost of you and me. All they have is theories about how things should go, but nothing for when they don’t.
Central banks exist to protect banks, and the banking system as a whole, from danger. They pretend that they protect the larger economy, and the people on Main Street, but that’s just a convenient little story. Enhanced by the idea that what is good for banks is also good for you. Which is absolute baloney, but it works like a charm.
More often than not, banks’ interests are 180º opposites of Main Street, they certainly demonstrably have been since 2007. But then, how would you ever know? The Fed and Wall Street and Washington and all the media that are supposed to inform you but in reality promote only their propaganda, have got an iron grip on how the picture is painted.
So what if the banks themselves are the danger, and not the real economy? Well, then you’re out of luck, because the first thing on the agenda is always to save the banks, no matter what its costs Main Street or the children of Main Street.
And that’s why Janet Yellen holds stupid and insulting speeches like the one today. To tell you that she knows, but she just doesn’t care.