Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Update: No Wage-Price Spiral if Wages Don't Spiral

The graph above shows two monthly series back to 1965 (data here): a) annual wage increases in the BLS series "Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees: Total Private" (blue line), and b) annual inflation calculated from the Consumer Price Index (red line).  Here are some observations:

1. There has been a downward trend in annual wage increases since 2007, and wage increases have been below 2% for the last six months starting in October 2011.  

2. These are actual market-based hourly wages, and therefore not subject to the measurement issues that are frequently cited by those who think the CPI significantly overstates or understates actual inflation.

3. The chart also shows that the inflationary episode of the 1970s and early 1980s in the U.S. was accompanied by both rising wages and rising consumers prices, which both peaked in 1980-1981; CPI inflation peaked at 14.6% in 1980 and wages in 1981 at 9.4%.  Since wages are simply the price of labor, and because inflation is a general overall increase in most prices, it would follow that rising inflationary pressures would generally have to also include rising inflationary wage increases, which we obviously haven't seen yet.  In fact, wage increases have been falling since 2007 as the graph and data indicate. 

Bottom Line: As I concluded about a year ago, it would be historically unprecedented to experience rising inflation in 2012 with stagnant wages, and therefore we can assume that unless and until we start seeing rising wages on the order of 5%, we won't see higher inflation this year.  That is, we can't have a 1970s-style inflationary "wage-price spiral" if wages are stagnant.  


At 5/08/2012 3:17 PM, Blogger Terry said...

I have to laugh. It is not a wage price spiral when wages are stagnant at best. Inflation is here just not measured by the government to help reelect Obama. The term you need is Jimmy Carter's Stagflation. It is taking a President as inept as Carter to bring it back.

At 5/08/2012 5:13 PM, Blogger geoih said...

So, you're saying that rising prices without rising wages is a good thing?

Fun with aggregates.

At 5/08/2012 5:25 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Not nly stagnant wages---unit labor costs are actually declining.

Add on: Commercial rents (outside Manhattan) are very soft, and down from five years most places.

Rent and labor make up roughly 70 percent of business costs.

Inflation is deader than Whitney Houston.

The true enemy is deflation--just ask Japan.

Add on: Since 1985, industrial production in the USA has doubled.

In Japan, it fell 20 percent (roughly)

Japan has had deflation, and we had (until recently) moderate inflation.

Theories are nice, but so is a pragmatic approach that gets results. Print more money.

At 5/08/2012 5:58 PM, Blogger Henry H said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/08/2012 5:59 PM, Blogger Henry H said...

Natural gas and electricity deflation will keep a lid on wholesale price inflation.

Drill Baby Drill

At 5/09/2012 8:22 AM, Blogger VangelV said...

So, you're saying that rising prices without rising wages is a good thing?

That is the part that has me confused. If food, fuel, insurance, tuition, health care, etc., are now going up why is Mark happy that wages are stagnant?

At 5/09/2012 8:53 AM, Blogger Jon Murphy said...

Here's something to consider with inflation:

The Consumer Price Index for All Items (so including food and energy) is fairly muted right now (whether you like the CPI calculations or not is irrelevant; this is what it is). However, the Producer Price Index (PPI) for most items is down from the year ago levels.

So, inflation will not be coming from supply-push (in other words, it won't be coming from producers raising prices to cover higher input costs), but will be coming from demand-pull (consumers buying more driving the costs up). While we are seeing increased consumption (retail sales are at record levels and auto retail sales are doing well, as well as record wholesale trade), as long as unemployment remains high, the effects of inflation will likely remain muted, at least in the short- to medium- term.


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