May 19, 2024

Economix: Podcast: Stimulus, Shutdown and Executive Pay

The unemployment rate in the United States is 8.8 percent. That’s unusually high this deep into an economic recovery. But why?

Has there been a sharp increase in what economists call the natural rate of unemployment, which, before the recession, had been generally thought to hover around 5 percent?

Christina Romer thinks not. She says the evidence indicates that the main reason for the current high unemployment is that the swings of the business cycle have been quite severe. And that’s because the financial crisis was so devastating. In the Economic View column in Sunday Business, and in a discussion in the Weekend Business podcast, she rebuts arguments that structural factors — like changing industrial composition or reduced labor mobility — have significantly changed the unemployment picture.

In her view, additional short-term fiscal stimulus — as part of a comprehensive package of long-term budget balancing — is the appropriate remedy. If she’s wrong, though, and if structural factors turn out to be more important than she thinks, she says the government should take action to retrain workers and match them with jobs. In any case, she says, if cyclical unemployment goes on long enough, it could become structural. Quick action is crucial, she says.

In another conversation in the podcast, Motoko Rich talks about the stakes for business in the budget dispute that led to the brink of a government shutdown. As that prospect loomed, she analyzed the potential effects of a government shutdown on individual businesses, the markets and the overall economy.

The wild card might be the reaction of the financial markets, which have recently weathered the Japanese disaster, turmoil in the Middle East and the continuing debt crisis in Europe. It would be hard to predict the consequences for the markets if investors lost confidence in the United States government’s ability to function with even minimal effectiveness.

Businesses have bounced back from the financial crisis, and, over the last year, the compensation of C.E.O.’s has soared, according to a study done for The Times by Equilar, a consulting firm in California. In an article in Sunday Business, and in a podcast conversation with David Gillen, Gretchen Morgenson says that before buying shares of a company, at least one professional investor carefully considers how much that company is paying its top executives. If the compensation is not linked closely to corporate performance, it may be a sign of other problems, she says.

When you see postings about your friends’ activities on social networks, do you ever feel distracted or even envious? The constant stream of information coming across mobile phones and browsers can be invigorating. But in the Ping column in Sunday Business, and in a podcast conversation, Jenna Wortham says it can also engender FOMO — the fear of missing out, an increasingly common complaint in the digital age. Shutting off your phone might help, if you can force yourself to do it. If you can’t, you might try not to look at the screen for a while — and find solace in the realization that many others are coping with these feelings, too.

The feeling of being left out while others prosper has moved some people to extreme action, as John Schwartz writes in a humor column in the quarterly Mutual Funds Report that appears in Sunday Business. Pimping and robbery — such routes to riches have tempted some people lately. But for most of us, scrimping, saving and investing are probably the way to go, he says in the podcast.

You can find specific segments of the show at these junctures: executive pay (30:46); business implications of a government shutdown (24:58); headlines (20:55); fear of missing out (18:48); John Schwartz on better plans for getting rich (12:41); Christina Romer on high unemployment (9:06); the week ahead (2:08).

As articles discussed in the podcast are published during the weekend, links will be added to this posting.

You can download the show by subscribing from the New York Times podcast page or directly from iTunes.

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