Polly Toynbee is bemoaning the manner in which UK wages aren’t rising:
On Wednesday Steve Machin, research director at the LSE’s centre for economic performance, laid out to a meeting of economists the collected evidence on the nature of falling pay – and warned that this is beginning to look not like a slow recovery in wages, but a permanent, structural feature of the UK economy. He showed how the group-think of economic forecasters has consistently and wildly over-estimated an expected increase in wages: the OBR forecast for March this year was a wage rise of 4.3%. What happened has been a continuing real fall.
“There has been a startling and unprecedented lack of wage growth as unemployment falls,” Machin says. The “herd mentality” of forecasters is always to expect things to improve, but there is no sign they are right. This begins to look like the new permanent, as flatlining real median pay began back in 2003, long before the crash. Nor, finds Machin, is immigration a cause of falling pay: areas with high or low immigration saw pay fall equally.
Polly does at least pay lip service to the idea of being a Keynesian but I’m sure she would be surprised to find that Keynes would have been fully supportive of all of this happening. If people are unemployed then those people have to be priced back into work: and it was exactly Keynes who pointed out that people get very touchy indeed about falls in nominal wages but will put up with falls in real wages if they’re lightly disguised by a bit of inflation. Further, the Phillips Curve comes out of very much the same sort of thinking. That there’s a trade off between the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. We reach NAIRU (the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) and if unemployment dips below that then inflation will rise. If it’s above it then inflation will fall. And if we’re seeing ever-falling unemployment and no sign of wages rises then we can conclude that NAIRU has fallen: which is absolutely great, for it means fewer people have to be consigned the the scrap heap of unemployment in order to keep inflation at bay in the future. We’ve had a favourable change in the basic structure of the economy.
However, the real shocker to us here is this:
Low pay is not just unjust, it’s crippling the country’s finances.
That’s dangerously close to insisting that the populace are just the milch cows there to pay for the State, the sheep to be shorn of their incomes to pay for public employees. Actually, given that it’s Polly saying it that’s not dangerously close, that’s what she means.