This week the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States met on interest-rate policy and decided it will be very careful about raising rates. You may ask what this has to do with what the Rayno Report covers — big tech trends in networking and communications. The answer is that it’s all connected.
A growing theme in the global economy is how technology is affecting jobs. This is what I call the #robotmeme, the idea that technology is contributing to deflationary forces. This comes in two parts: 1) Better networking and connectivity throughout the world enables labor arbitrage (outsourcing); and 2) Automation decreases the total number of jobs.
I believe the effects of technology on our society are far-reaching and profound. Technology is efficient, but that has a price: For example, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has $50 billion in revenue, a $300 billion market cap, and about 50,000 employees. Google’s revenue per employee is more than $1 million! That is remarkable productivity, but what does it mean for the rest of us? Fewer jobs.
Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), a “rust-belt” company that makes a lot of tractors and machinery, has $55 billlion in revenue, a market cap of about $48 billion, and 114,000 employees. That’s $450,000 per employee, compared with Google’s $1 million-plus — half as many jobs for a similar amount of revenue.
This is the global economy in a nutshell. We are moving from a Caterpillar to a Google economy.
Many economists have asserted that technology automation — as well as globalization of wages — has been a factor in stagnant pay and a generally slow economy. The deflation of wages is a broad trend and prominent feature of the economy since the financial crisis. Real wage growth hasn’t budged for decades, according to Pew Research.
And since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, wage growth has actually fallen. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average person is making less than he or she was in 2008. You can clearly see this in this Fed chart that shows average hourly earnings after subtracting costs for food and energy.
This is certainly a contributing factor to the “destruction of the middle class” in the United States, which in turn leads to a debate about the policies of the Fed, the most powerful economic body in the world. A lot of criticism has been leveled at the Fed for its monetary stimulus policies. Money, of course, makes the world go ’round. And deflation and, particularly, collapsing money velocity has been a problem in the Fed’s attempt to resurrect the economy since the financial crisis.
But what about the jobs, wages, and the declining middle class? Is that the Fed’s fault? There is no doubt that Fed policies have stimulated many asset classes that primarily benefit the rich, such as stocks and private equity investments. But the fear that the Fed’s policies would result in runaway inflation hasn’t panned out. Last I checked, oil just fell from $100 a barrel to $40 a barrel in less than three months. Since the removal of the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) policies, the primary feature around the globe has been deflation.
This may indicate that the overwhelming force in the world is deflationary, and that the Fed was just “propping things up” for a while after the 2008 financial collapse. As we are seeing, when the Fed withdraws stimulus, we fall back toward a deflationary state.
Technology automation and globalization are huge factors here. That contributes to lower wages, lower inflation, and lower interest rates. It’s not all about the Fed. You can’t have real inflation without wage inflation. To drive prices up, people need to earn more money.
This is a trend that’s not going away any time soon. How do you fix it? There is no easy fix. But for the individual and his career, it’s important to understand big technology trends and how they effect business and industry, which is an important focus of this site.
Another solution is to educate people to help them find better jobs in technology, because technology management and automation appears to be a growing driver of the economy. The next step in this process, I believe, is improved job training and education to retool our younger population for this challenging future. This should be an important focus of both the private and public sectors.