Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The UK's output fell by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2011. This is no surprise - some observers have been predicting a fourth quarter fall in output for over 18 months now. That being the case, the policy response has been disappointing. But perhaps that is, in part at least, because official forecasters - such as the Office for Budget Responsibility - got their forecasts wrong. The predictions made by these bodies do indeed impact on policy, and the question needs to be asked: why did these forecasters fail to predict a downturn that was both predictable and predicted?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The International Monetary Fund now predicts the Euro area to go into recession this year. It is predicting growth of 0.6% for the UK - this may or may not mean recession in the early part of the year. The Fund anticipates that 'adverse spillovers from the euro area' will stall growth in a wider range of countries, and that the 'downside risks have risen sharply'. Crucially, the Fund states that countries 'with very low interest rates or other factors that create adequate fiscal space, including some in the euro area, should reconsider the pace of near-term fiscal consolidation'. The meaning of 'fiscal space' is discussed in a blog post by Jonathan Portes. The implications for UK policy are clear.

It's taken the IMF a while to get it - but they have not been alone in the policy-making community. Hopefully their words will not fall on deaf ears.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

There have been mixed signals about the economy of late, but consumer confidence remains low. Developments in Europe - with continued uncertainty about the Greek bailout and the future of the euro - combined with further evidence that banks are once again reluctant to lend (with a high and rising LIBOR) render the macroeconomic environment fragile. Meanwhile, the dampening effect of austerity measures on growth has become increasingly evident. A further burst of quantitative easing should be expected in the spring - though that may well come too late to prevent the UK from slipping back into recession.
Youth unemployment is a problem of increasing concern - over a million youths (between the ages of 16 and 24) are now unemployed in the UK; the youth unemployment rate is 22%, well above the overall unemployment rate of 8.6%. The trajectory is up.

The willingness of employers to hire labour is, of course, determined in large measure by its cost. Youth wages have risen by less than adult wages over the last 15 years, so it is not immediately obvious that this is the source of the problem. The elasticity of the real youth wage with respect to the youth unemployment rate is negative (as we would expect) at around -0.1, indicating that a change in the youth unemployment rate from (say) 10 to 11 per cent would bring about a 10 per cent fall in youth wages. That should help to make young people more attractive to employers. Meanwhile, the elasticity of youth wages with respect to the adult wage is high (at a little over 0.8).

Weakening the link between youth wages and adult wages - making youth wages more responsive to conditions in the labour market specifically for young people - might, over the longer term, help alleviate the difficulties that many young people experience in finding work. Of more immediate concern, many firms lack the confidence to invest in new projects that would expand employment, and, where they do wish to invest, they still often lack the access to finance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some more evidence on what makes schools effective comes from Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer. They find that a mix of policies - including setting clear and high expectations, obtaining regular feedback on teachers, making data-based decisions on pedagogical issues - explain a substantial part of the differences in performance across schools. In light of the work that I reported in a recent blog entry, it is clear that there is a very durable impact associated with high quality schooling. The policies suggested by Dobbie and Fryer are therefore worthy of serious consideration.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Recent work by Raj Chetty, John Friedman and Jonah Rockoff suggests that teacher quality has a very considerable impact on students' outcomes - not just in terms of test scores but also in terms of lifetime earnings. These findings have obvious policy implications, but the fact remains that we still know remarkably little about how to create a good teacher. Dan Goldhaber and Emily Anthony provide some evidence that suggests that the characteristics of high quality teachers can be identified - but it is not clear that all of these characteristics can be delivered through training programmes. Based on what we do know, however, Rick Hanushek and Steven Rivkin suggest that an appropriate response is to tighten up on the subject-specific qualifications that are required of teachers, and simultaneously to firm up on human resource management - in particular tightening promotion and retention criteria. In light of the new evidence on the returns to high quality teaching, the societal benefits of such an approach are likely to be substantial.

Goldhaber, D., & Anthony, E. (2007). Can Teacher Quality Be Effectively Assessed? National Board Certification as a Signal of Effective Teaching Review of Economics and Statistics, 89 (1), 134-150 DOI: 10.1162/rest.89.1.134

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Recent research by David Deming, Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz should provide a reality check for those keen on promoting the development of for-profit higher education in the UK. Using data from the US - where for-profits are now a significant player - the authors find that graduates of such institutions are more prone to unemployment and have lower earnings than those from more traditional universities. Moreover - and surely of immediate concern to government - graduates from the for-profit sector face much more severe problems of debt and their default rates on student loans are particularly high.

This evidence is particularly interesting in the context of yesterday's speech by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, in which the goal of 'inviting proposals for a new type of university with a focus on science and technology ... (with) ... no additional government funding' was announced. There is, surely, a role to be played by the private sector in higher education. The case in favour of for-profits is not so clear.