More Tory disinformation on the economy

Now, Iain Duncan Smith is at it.

More misinformation from another cabinet minister at the Tory jamboree in Cardiff. Iain Duncan Smith told the conference that unemployment was less of a problem than some have suggested. "It's short-sighted to say there aren't any jobs at the moment. The fact is, there are around half a million vacancies in the economy at the moment," he said. "It's not the absence of jobs that's the problem. It's the failure to match the unemployed to the jobs there are."

OK, let's take a look at this dumb claim. It is true that there are two and a half million unemployed people and half a million vacancies; so there are five unemployed people chasing each recorded vacancy. But to put that in context, exactly two years ago, there were two million unemployed and 677,000 vacancies -- or one vacancy for every three unemployed people. So, at the very least, it is harder to find a job than it was two years ago, as there aren't enough jobs. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to work that out.

It turns out that capitalist economies need some unemployment to allow for the rebalancing away from goods that people don't want to goods that they do. That means there is an available pool of labour for these new firms to hire from. It is also efficient for an economy to allow people to move between jobs they don't like to ones that they do. That is why we subsidise search. The problem comes when unemployment durations lengthen, as they have recently. Today, a third of the unemployment durations are more than 12 months long, compared with 22 per cent two years ago. Skills deteriorate when no jobs are available, which is why recessions hurt.

A further problem is that there is a mismatch between the skills the unemployed have and those required for the vacancies. There is also the problem that the vacancies are in one place and the unemployed live elsewhere. There are jobs available as experienced brain surgeons in London but the unemployed are 22 years old, with no experience and no qualifications and live in Middlesbrough. Nearly a million of the total stock of unemployed people are under the age of 25. How exactly are they going to fill the vacancies that require experience? The only way to get a job is to have experience but the only way to get experience is to have a job.

Over the past two years, overall employment fell by 210,000 while employment of those aged between 16 and 24 fell by 351,000. In contrast, the employment of those aged between 25 and 34 increased by 171,000, while that of those who are 35 and over fell by 30,000. This doesn't look like a failure to fill available vacancies. The jobs have gone. Plus, the government is reducing funding for training, so that is going to make it harder to solve the mismatch problem. And there is a public-sector hiring freeze. Too many unemployed, chasing too few jobs.

The problem is the lack of vacancies, not the fact that the unemployed don't want to get on their bikes. It is not their fault, as much as you might like it to be. The unemployed are there involuntarily and not by choice. Sorry Iain, back to the drawing board. There just aren't enough jobs at the moment and things are going to get much worse -- and soon.

David Blanchflower is economics editor of the New Statesman and professor of economics at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump