Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

The misery index was used in the 1970s to show the stagflationary nightmare. It is constructed by summing up the inflation rate and the unemployment rate. The higher this index, the worse the economic situation for a country. The misery indexes I show below are constructed slightly differently. While I take the unemployment rate as is, I dont use the inflation rate directly but rather the deviation of inflation from 1.5% (thereby assuming that 1.5% is somehow a superior inflation rate, but it could equally be a different low but positive number). Reason is that a very low/negative inflation rate has also negative economic and social consequences. Additionally, I add the budget deficit to the inflation rate and unemployment rate. A high budget deficit has also negative economic costs and reduces current as well as future fiscal flexibility.

US adjusted misery index
Source: ResearchAhead

The above chart shows the history of this misery index for the US (black: unemployment + adjsuted inflation, blue: +budget deficit). As can be seen, including the budget deficit, this misery index is back to the level prevailing during the stagflationary 70s. While at that time, unemployment and inflation were the problem whereas budget deficits were fairly low, this time unemployment and the deficit are high, whereas inflation has so far remained low.

Only Germany is on the bright side
Source: ResearchAhead

The chart above shows the adjusted misery index including the budget deficit for various economies. The UK shows a similar behaviour as the US. The Eurozone overall has as well seen a sharp rise in its misery index. However, the index is still at levels which were prevailing during the mid-90s. Finally, the German misery index has already dropped back to the levels which were prevailing at the height of the dot-com boom.

A country can lower unemployment if it reverts to more fiscal spending but at the expense of a higher budget deficit. Alternatively, a looser monetary policy could also be used to lower unemployment with the risk of fuelling inflation further down the road. As a result, there is a trade-off between these three variables which limits cyclical macro-economic policy. I am convinced that a lot of the economic problems (=surge in the misery index) are of a structural nature for the over-indebted/over-spending/over-leveraged US/UK and peripheral Eurozone countries. What is needed to significantly and sustainably lower the misery index again is time, structural reforms and improved corporate competitiveness.

No comments:

Post a Comment