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Is the Great Catch Up slowing down?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

One optimistic observation in economics is that poor countries should be able to catch up with the richer ones, since it’s easier to grow from a low level of GDP to a higher one. This observation was made by Nobel-winner Robert Solow in 1956, and is based on the idea that low income countries are poor because their workers have access to less capital. This capital shortage (i.e. insufficient infrastructure) implies that the return on investment should be high, so capital should flow from rich countries to poor ones, leading the two worlds to converge on similar levels of productivity and income.

Furthermore, in this theory, growth in rich countries is driven by new technology which, once developed, could be adopted by poorer economies too. Indeed, the poor could potentially learn from the mistakes made by the rich, and leapfrog directly to more productive ways of doing things.

And so it seemed. From the late 1990s to 2008, poor countries were catching up fast. But that catch up seems to have slowed down (see chart above).

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Externalities of Waste - Do we throw too much stuff away?

Friday, July 25, 2014

This is a super report from BBC Newsnight on the issue of our throwaway society and the externalities of waste. How can the link between consumption and the discarding of unwanted and broken products be weakened? What role can innovation play - for example the rise of modular phones where parts can be replaced when broken. The fundamental problem is that traditional manufacturing business models are based on mass production and sales. How are increasing world commodity prices affecting this model?

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Siemens Boss on possible redindustrialisation of the UK economy

Sunday, July 20, 2014

This interview with Jurgen Maier of Siemens is well worth reading on several different levels. It challenges the conventional wisdom that UK will always lag behind Germany in terms of high value added manufacturing; it refers to the economics risks of Brexit (Britain leaving the EU) and it also stresses the importance to the UK of foreign investment from German businesses many of which have been in the Uk since well before the first World War - Siemens and Bosch are two well-known examples.

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Impact of a rising £

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Last autumn all the talk was of the impact of a plunging sterling exchange rate and the UK’s struggle to find new export markets. According to most observers it was time to ‘rebalance’ the economy towards a more export-lead model of growth. George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, talked of “a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”. 

The plan was for a revival in manufacturing and exports, driven, at least in part, by a weaker pound. Sterling had fallen by 30% during the financial crisis, but since early 2013 the pound has climbed back, appreciating by 10% in trade-weighted terms.

What impact might this have?

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Unit 4 Macro: Has India missed the manufacturing boat?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

This is a timely and important short video report on the future for Indian manufacturing industry.

Onerous regulations, bureaucracy and poor infrastructure have made it difficult for large manufacturers to prosper in low cost mass manufacturing in India. And just as the South Asian nation starts to benefit from the so-called demographic dividend, manufacturers are shifting towards less labour intensive manufacturing techniques. The Financial Times visits JCB and Bharat Forge in the manufacturing hub of Pune to find out more

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Structural Change in Asian and Australasian Countries

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Using pubic data from the Asian Development Bank here are some illustrations of the structural changes in output that have occurred across a selection of countries in Far East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Consider the magnitude of the changes that have taken place over the last twenty years. Note for revision which countries appear at the top and the bottom of each individual chart and think about WHY they appear in that position.

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UK carbon taxes in a mess

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Climate change is back in the news, and continues to stir up heat, but not much light. It’s proving fantastically difficult to come up with consistent and efficient policies to reduce CO2 emissions.

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Unit 2 Macro: Structural Decline in the UK Steel Industry

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

If you are looking for a solid example of a manufacturing industry that experienced deep long term structural contraction then the UK steel sector is a good one to use.

Global steel output has more than doubled in the last four years but what remains of the UK steel industry is battling against rising costs and the challenge of meeting stringent climate change policies. The Financial Times visits Celsa's plant in Cardiff to find out if UK steelmakers still have a viable future. Can British producers take advantage of a rebound in steel output and profits if the European Union economy shows signs of a more durable and stronger recovery?

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Quiz on the Index of Economic Complexity

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Atlas of Economic Complexity is a new book (perfect for the coffee table) from Richard Hausmann and Cesar Hidalgo. It maps out the degree of complexity of individual economies around the world and provides a hugely visual and interesting insight into the importance of knowledge in shaping the future prosperity of countries in the global economy. I have put together a 10 question quiz on some of their key results - a useful activity I hope for students interested in the commodity composition of trade of developed and developing countries. Have a go!

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Manufacturing in Africa

Monday, February 24, 2014

Economics coverage of Africa can be a bit bleak (though perhaps it shouldn't be, with incomes rising rapidly in parts of Africa). There are often bad news stories, particularly in terms of human development indicators. News of economic progress often centres on the exploitation of primary commodities, with all the risks and issues that presents.

If you hope Africa will experience development, you’re likely to want to see sustained and robust economic growth. That, in turn, will require industrialization.

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Imports are good too!

Monday, January 27, 2014

We are often (quite rightly), talking about Britain’s disappointing export performance. There are lots of good reasons to promote exports – an injection into the circular flow of income and the X in C+I+G+(X-M)

But don’t fall for the trap of thinking that exports=good and imports=bad. In the final analysis, one of the main reasons for exports is to pay for imports. Imports play a crucial role in making our economy more efficient.

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Business economics: the global car industry

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A great case study in The Economist, ideal for those of you wanting to link business economics theory to a clearly relevant case study.

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Fog and filthy air

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Here's another weather blog.  It's cold and atmospheric conditions are right for exceptionally severe local air pollution; smoke, micro particulates and sulphur dioxide combine into a greasy 'smog'.  The health impact is severe. People start talking about a 'killer fog' and even an 'environmental disaster'.  Thousands die over the next few days and weeks, many more face serious long term consequences.

Where am I describing?

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Unit 4 Macro: Centre of Gravity in Car Manufacturing Moves East

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Volume car production has been surging in recent years in many Eastern European countries - this FT news video provides some of the background and offers some revealing insights into the complex sources of competitive advantage in a key industrial sector.

The vehicles that roll off the production line at the Czech company's state-of-the-art car plant near Prague now outstrip many western rivals not only on cost but on reliability and finish too.

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A new exhibition on the changing UK industrial landscape

Peter Marsh, formerly the manufacturing editor of the Financial Times, has let me know of the imminent launch of an unusual and interesting photographic project linked to the world of manufacturing. It's an exhibition of pictures of UK manufacturing operations taken by some of the world's top photographers and which will tour Britain from the end of January to September next year.

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Export destinations and UK export performance

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Two cartoons to illustrate two key issues: Britain doesn't export enough (especially goods) and so has a large current account deficit.

That's not to say that the UK doesn't have significant exports markets - but where?

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The Circular Economy

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The FT video clip below provides a short interview with Dame Ellen MacArthur - the former ocean yachtswoman - and her idea of building a circular economy - this idea might be a fruitful area for student exploration when studying environmental economics. To quote from the web site:L

"The linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model relies on large quantities of easily accessible resources and energy, and as such is increasingly unfit for the reality in which it operates. Working towards efficiency—a reduction of resources and fossil energy consumed per unit of manufacturing output—will not alter the finite nature of their stocks but can only delay the inevitable. A change of the entire operating system seems necessary"

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Grangemouth highlights the competitive problems of the Rest of the UK

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The recovery in the British economy is now firmly established. Output in the services sector, the largest part of the economy, is above the previous peak level prior to the crash in 2008. There is a widespread myth that the recovery is fuelled by debt-financed personal spending. Yet since the trough of the recession in 2009 the economy as a whole has grown faster than spending by consumers.

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Unit 4 Macro: Who Will Grow Next?

Monday, October 28, 2013

In the second part of his conversation with Professor Richard Hausmann, John Authers from the FT asks which countries are well set for growth in the years ahead. Hausmann argues that there are three factors that explain growth - firstly how well natural resources are used, second how many productive capabilities a country currently has. And thirdly, how easy can a nation can acquire new productive capabilities. He claims that Mexico is better placed than Brazil on account of improved diversification into more sophisticated products. Hausmann forecasts that China will grow at a rate of around 5% between now and 2020, well below the growth target set by the Chinese government.

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Peru’s Free Trade Agreement with China

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Workers in Peru say they are suffering because of competition from cheaper imports. Chinese imports are stifling what was one of the largest clothing manufacturers in South America and a free trade agreement could make matters worse. A short video clip on this issue/

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What’s the right ‘type’ of growth for the UK economy?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Most of us are keen to see the economy grow – as measured by GDP – and in the short run, the most likely driver of growth will be aggregate demand (AD). But which component of AD do we want to grow the most?

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Bangladeshi Clothing Factories

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Since the appalling fire a few months back at the Rana Plaza complex that cost the lives of more than 1100 people, there has been intense interest and scrutiny of working and living conditions of thousands employed in Bangladeshi clothing factories.

On Monday night the BBC programme Panorama broadcast an investigation into this and the findings were compelling and deeply disturbing.

In "Dying for a Bargain" Panorama discovered there have been at least 50 fires in Bangladeshi clothing factories in the last 10 months. Clothing factory workers filmed by #BBCPanorama were released at 2:30 am, 19 hours after they started. They were due back at 7am. You can see a clip of this here. Events uncovered at the Ha Meem Sportswear factory will no doubt have left executives at Lidl scrambling to find out the truth about what is happening at one of their major clothing suppliers.

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Unit 2 Macro: Lessons from the Whisky Industry in Exporting

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Britain's exports of whisky have been growing strongly in recent years helped by a lower pound and fast-rising demand from whisky drinkers in emerging markets. Whisky exports set to rise to £4.5bn by 2017 even though sales to traditionally strong markets in the European Union have stalled because of persistent recession in countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. This Channel 4 news report looks at the experiences of two whisky producers - one a small-scale manufacturer and the other the giant Diageo to consider prospects for UK exports as a way of strengthening the recovery,

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Paul Ormerod: How sticky is unemployment?

Friday, August 23, 2013

How sticky is unemployment? Will it take three years to fall?

The views expressed by the new Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney, on interest rates and unemployment remain a hot topic. Interest rates will not be raised until unemployment falls below 7 per cent, a process he thinks will take three years.

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Maker Movements - Garage Manufacturing

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Collaboration and innovation are often fast-tracked by creating the right spaces for people and ideas to mingle.

This seven minute video from the Economist is deeply interesting - it looks at the Artisan's Asylum near Boston, Massachusetts in the USA which is host to a number of new hardware businesses. They are built around cheap work space, high-tech tools and crowd-sourced funding. The project has spawned some notable success stories many built around digital 3D printing - is there anything like an equivalent Maker Movement in the UK?

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Unit 4 Macro: Britain’s Shaky

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Britain is growing again—but in perplexing and unsustainable ways - here is a discussion between two journalists at the Economist looking at recent developments in the UK economy - they attempt to dig below the headline figures on GDP to consider whether the ingredients are in place for a sustained, balanced and strong recovery over the next few years. The prospects do not look too good at the moment.

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UK Economy: Sheffield and the New Industrial Revolution

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Arising from a recent visit to Sheffield, Peter Marsh, formerly the Manufacturing editor of the Financial Times, wrote an article on how Britain's steel city might benefit from the new industrial revolution - here is the link to follow

UK Economy: 170 years of industrial change in England and Wales

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Understand better some of the very long term changes in the structure of output and employment in England and Wales using this clear video resource published by the Office of National Statistics. The video also looks at some of the key technological changes that have driven big changes in output and jobs over the years. 

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Paul Ormerod: Whatever happened to all those miners?  Shocks and economic resilience

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Where have all the miners gone?  To judge by the rhetoric of the BBC and other Leftist media outlets, whole swathes of Britain lie devastated, plagued by rickets, unemployment and endemic poverty – nearly thirty years after the pit closures under Lady Thatcher!

The reality is different.  There is indeed a small number of local authority areas where employment has never really recovered from the closures in the 1980s.  But, equally, there are former mining areas which have prospered.  

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Why should a fall in output lead to a fall in the exchange rate?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This article gives the opportunity for some neat cause-and-effect analysis. The cause is data from the ONS which shows that manufacturing output fell by 1.5% in January, following a 0.9% rise in December. The effect? Sterling has fallen to another low against the dollar. However the chain of argument which links this to the fall in manufacturing data is missing, as if often the case in students' essays, and which tends to cost them valuable analysis marks in exams.

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Slow return to a British export led recovery?

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Aggregate Demand may be stimulated by an increase in exports. Ha-Joon Chang, Author of the best seller, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism considers reasons in a short article for The Guardian why this hasn't happened after Sterling had fallen against other major trading economies. " Compared with ...2007, the pound has been devalued about 30% against the dollar, 50% against the yen, and 20% against the struggling euro. Yet despite the huge incentive to export created by such devaluation, Britain is still running trade deficits because it has lost the productive capacity to respond."

It  may help students consider plausible policies to reduce its trade deficit, a macroeconomic goal overlooked in arguments over  fiscal and monetary policies to control inflation or output. Finally it may aid evaluation, how different are the most pressing short and long term macroeconomic challengers facing UK governments.

Link to most trade figures.

Unit 1 Micro: Video Examples of the Division of Labour

Saturday, February 09, 2013

We will put together some visual resources here on the division of labour in action! Click below to access them.

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Unit 2 Macro: Key Term Glossary

Friday, January 04, 2013

An updated glossary of key terms for AS macro

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Unit 2 Macro: Unemployment Rises as Hovis Factory Closes

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Premier Foods is the UK's largest food manufacturer but in November 2012 they have announced the closure of two large bakeries that have - for many years - produced Hovis bread for supermarkets. The closure of the factories follows the loss of its £75m-a-year contract with Co-operative supermarkets. Hundreds of jobs are set to be lost in the spring of 2013 with damaging consequences for the local economy. What types of unemployment can you associate with these factory closures? What measures might be appropriate in addressing the extra unemployment problem that will result?

BBC news: Hovis shuts bakeries - click here

Hovis bakery worker devastated - click here

Peter Marsh - A New Industrial Revolution

Peter Marsh's talk at our Global economy conference in London on Monday challenged us to think in fresh terms about what manufacturing is and the opportunities for British businesses to make successful headway in premium and precision manufactured products in a fast-changing global environment. Here are the slides from his presentation. The FT special reprot - Making the Future is well worth tapping into - here is the link. We have also linked to some of his recent video pieces for the Financial Times

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Paul Ormerod: Our Friends in the North are trapped in a monetary union

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Michael Heseltine’s report on economic growth came out last week.  It contains 89 recommendations.  A mere 57 varieties, to recall the famous Heinz slogan, might have connected it more with popular culture.

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Unit 2 Macro: Ford announces the closure of UK assembly plants

Friday, October 26, 2012

The headline news from the Financial Times could not be starker. Ford Motors has announced the closure of its last two remaining assembly plants in the UK  with the probably loss of thousands of jobs. The Ford Transit plant in Southampton will close in early 2013 and a tooling factory will close in Dagenham, east London. Workers in these two factories are paying a heavy price for the sustained fall in new vehicle orders and production since the credit crunch came in 2007. Since then there has been a more than 20 per cent decline in total demand for vehicles. New passenger car registrations in Europe are expected to be just over 9 million in 2012 compared to 13 million in 2011 and 15 million in 2007. Demand for commercial vehicles has also suffered as businesses have cut back on their capital investment.

Ford is not alone in making difficult decisions to restructure their European business as a way of stemming losses and maintaining competitiveness in a hugely difficult market. Many other leading car manufacturers are taking steps to lower their production costs and survive this turbulent period:

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Unit 4 Macro: Perspectives on Chinese Wage Inflation

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My students have been researching and writing about the rapid growth of wages in the Chinese economy. Here are some of their perspectives with each author appearing at the top of the relevant section.

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Unit 4 Macro: Lewis Turning Points

Monday, October 08, 2012

Lewis turning points are the defining feature of Arthur Lewis’ Dual-Sector Model, devised in 1954. 

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Unit 3 Micro: On Demand Manufacturing

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Peter Marsh the Financial Times industrial editor has written a new book about the future of manufacturing. He has been travelling around the world looking at some examples of cutting edge new technologies in manufacturing that will likely reshape the industrial landscape in the years to come. In this video example we visit a company Phoenix, Arizona at the forefront of made to order manufacturing. After 17 years of development by Dr. James St. Ville, Armor Designs, can, within a few hours, create custom composites for body and vehicle armour.

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Unit 4 Macro: Competitiveness - The Growth of JCB

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

In this Financial Times analysis video the world class British business JCB is showcased - they see the world as their market and focus only on their core competencies - what are the key ingredients in building and sustaining their competitiveness in global markets? JCB is the UK’s biggest privately owned manufacturer.

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Unit 3 Micro: Microsoft launches a tablet to challenges Apple’s dominance

Monday, July 02, 2012

A potentially important moment for the contestability of the tablet market. Technology giant Microsoft has unveiled its touchpad tablet computer. The “Surface” will face tough competition from Apple’s iPad and many other devices including those made by Samsung. These video resources provide some background. The Surface tablet computer will not be available until the Autumn on 2012.

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Unit 4 Macro: China and Reinventing Innovation

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This 101 East programme from Al Jazeerah shown in June 2012 looks at attempts within China to fast track investment and progress in product innovation as part of the drive to sustain growth and make the leap from middle to higher income living standards. The programme is 25 minutes long. China faces allegations of unfair trade practices and intellectual piracy by some of its major trading partners in the US and Europe

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The MRPL of a graduate, and comparative advantage

Sunday, June 10, 2012

If workers are needed for the output they are required to produce, then it follows that they could be paid up to the extra value of revenue that their output generates for the firm, and that wage differentials will reflect differences in labour productivity - in other words, I am talking about the marginal revenue product of labour. The University and College Union (UCU) have commissioned a report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) called ‘Further Higher? Tertiary education and growth in the UK’s new economy’, looking for some evidence of the differences in the productivity of workers who have A levels and those with degrees - you can see the results in the table above.

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Made in China - but not quite so cheaply…...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

How long can China keep its comparative advantage of cheap production for manufacturing goods? We are aware of rising inflation in China which is eroding their advantage, and here is an article about a UK firm which manufactures cushions, some from a factory in Kirkby on Merseyside and some from his factory in the Zhejiang province in China. The story comes from a programme ‘The Town taking on China’ to be shown on BBC2 at 8pm tonight - and subsequently on i-player.

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Unit 3 Micro: The Third Industrial Revolution

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This is well worth watching! It is an 8 minute discussion from the Economist which examines what is being called “The Third Industrial Revolution” - based around the digitisation of manufacturing processes. Concepts such as 3d printing and advanced robotics are discussed, as are concepts such as competitiveness, productivity and product personalisation. One possible consequence of these changes might be that high quality manufacturing may begin to move back from lower-wage economies such as China and back to economies like the USA.

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Unit 2 Macro: Skills Shortages Hold Back Recovery

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Here is a superb news report from Channel 4 news about the shortage of skilled workers in the North East of England (an area of high unemployment). Nissan this week announced a big new investment in car making at their ultra-high productivity plant in Washington, Tyne and Wear. But many of the manufacturers along Nissan’s supply chain are finding it tough to get enough skilled people coming througth to make realistic bid for the orders that will come from Nissa. Some businesses are having to turn down contracts because they dont have the extra workforce to cope with the higher volumes of businesses.

Skills shortages are restricting the growth of many small and medium sized businesses especially in manufacturing. Little wonder that Nissan is working very closely with Gateshead College to run an apprenticeship scheme - an example of external economies of scale in action.

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Unit 4 Macro: Productivity Improvements in China

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which a country combines capital and labour to produce more with the same level of factor inputs. We commonly focus on labour productivity measured by output per person employed or output per person hour.

A better measure of underlying productivity growth is total factor productivity which takes into account changes in the amount of capital available for each worker to use and also changes in the size of the labour force.

To give a simple numerical example, if the size of the capital stock grows by 3% and the employed workforce expands by 2% and output (GDP) increases by 8%, then total factor productivity has increased by 3%.

China has achieved impressive gains in productivity in recent years. Some of this is undoubtedly the huge spending on capital investment which has grown to nearly 50% of China’s GDP. The labour force has also grown although this is scheduled to level off and then decline in the years ahead.

What has driven improvements in Chinese total factor productivity?

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Unit 2 Macro: Focus on UK Manufacturing

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

There have been lots of stories in recent days about the future for UK industry / manufacturing - here is a selection of audio and video links:

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Unit 2 Macro: Can China Stay Competitive

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This new five minute video report from the Financial Times is excellent on the competitive pressures facing many manufacturing businesses located in southern China. Wages are rising quickly and some manufacturing businesses have already moved either to lower-cost locations within the Chinese economy or to other countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.

But there are alternative approaches and this video emphasises the decision that some manufacturers have made to stay put but instead to move up the value chain and produce higher-end, higher-priced products for advanced western markets. Businesses are reluctant to move factories and sacrifice the human capital that has been accumulated over in some cases over thirty years.

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