Economic growth is no longer enough

As new technologies subject the world’s economies to massive structural change, wages are no longer playing the central redistributive role they once did. Unless the decoupling of productivity and wages is addressed, the political convulsions many countries are experiencing will only intensify.

MADRID – Macroeconomic data from the world’s advanced economies can be mystifying when viewed in isolation. But when analyzed collectively, the data reveal a troubling truth: without changes to how wealth is generated and distributed, the political convulsions that have swept the world in recent years will only intensify.

Consider, for example, wages and employment. In the United States and many European countries, average salaries have stagnated, despite most economies having recovered from the 2008 financial crisis in terms of GDP and job growth.

Moreover, increases in employment have not led to a slowdown or a reversal of the decline in the wage share of total national income. On the contrary, most of the wealth created since the 2008 crisis has gone to the rich. This might explain the low levels of consumption that characterize most advanced economies, and the failure of extremely lax monetary policy to produce an uptick in inflation.

Employment, too, seems to be performing in anomalous ways. Job creation, where it has taken place, has followed a different path than history suggests it should. For example, most employment growth has been in high-skill or low-skill occupations, hollowing out the middle. Many of the people who once comprised the Western middle class are now part of the middle-lower and lower classes, and live more economically precarious lives than ever before. Read more…

Published on Oct. 25, 2017 in

Manuel Muñiz
Manuel Muñiz is Dean of IE School of International Relations and Senior Associate at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.