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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Krugman: Falling Wage Syndrome

by Calculated Risk on 5/03/2009 11:24:00 PM

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times: Falling Wage Syndrome

Wages are falling all across America.
[A]ccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of employing workers in the private sector rose only two-tenths of a percent in the first quarter of this year — the lowest increase on record. Since the job market is still getting worse, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if overall wages started falling later this year.
Suppose that workers at the XYZ Corporation accept a pay cut. That lets XYZ management cut prices, making its products more competitive. Sales rise, and more workers can keep their jobs. So you might think that wage cuts raise employment — which they do at the level of the individual employer.

But if everyone takes a pay cut, nobody gains a competitive advantage. So there’s no benefit to the economy from lower wages. Meanwhile, the fall in wages can worsen the economy’s problems on other fronts.

In particular, falling wages, and hence falling incomes, worsen the problem of excessive debt ...

There has been a lot of talk lately about green shoots and all that, and there are indeed indications that the economic plunge that began last fall may be leveling off. ... the risk that America will ... face years of deflation and stagnation — seems, if anything, to be rising.
It sure seems many analysts suffer from a bipolar disorder. A few months ago it was depression, now it is "green shoots". As Krugman notes, it appears the pace of deterioration has slowed, and perhaps the economy will bottom sometime this year - but that is different from new growth. Stagnation is a real concern.