Diagram of macroeconomic circulation. LS LD is the full employment situation, one in which the rate of unemployment is zero or negative (corresponding to a labor shortfall).
Full employment, in macroeconomics, is the level of employment rates when there is no cyclical unemployment. It is defined by the majority of mainstream economists as being an acceptable level of natural unemployment above 0%, the discrepancy from 0% being due to non-cyclical types of unemployment. Unemployment above 0% is advocated as necessary to control inflation, which has brought about the concept of the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU); the majority of mainstream economists mean NAIRU when speaking of "full" employment.
What most neoclassical economists mean by "full" employment is a rate somewhat less than 100% employment, considering slightly lower levels desirable. Others, such as James Tobin, vehemently disagree, considering full employment as 0% unemployment.
Rates of unemployment substantially above 0% have also been attacked by John Maynard Keynes:
- "The Conservative belief that there is some law of nature which prevents men from being employed, that it is 'rash' to employ men, and that it is financially 'sound' to maintain a tenth of the population in idleness for an indefinite period, is crazily improbable - the sort of thing which no man could believe who had not had his head fuddled with nonsense for years and years. The objections which are raised are mostly not the objections of experience or of practical men. They are based on highly abstract theories venerable, academic inventions, half misunderstood by those who are applying them today, and based on assumptions which are contrary to the facts Our main task, therefore, will be to confirm the reader s instinct that what seems sensible is sensible, and what seems nonsense is nonsense."
- J.M. Keynes in a pamphlet to support Lloyd George in the 1929 election.
The 20th century British economist William Beveridge stated that an unemployment rate of 3% was full employment. Other economists have provided estimates between 2% and 13%, depending on the country, time period, and the various economists' political biases.
Before Milton Friedman and Edmund Phelps, Abba Lerner developed a version of the NAIRU. Unlike the current view, he saw a range of "full employment" unemployment rates. He distinguished between "high" full employment (the lowest sustainable unemployment under incomes policies) and "low" full employment (the lowest sustainable unemployment rate without these policies).
An alternative, more normative, definition (used by some labor economists) would see "full employment" as the attainment of the ideal unemployment rate, where the types of unemployment that reflect labor-market inefficiency (such as structural unemployment) do not exist. Only some frictional unemployment would exist, where workers are temporarily searching for new jobs. For example, Lord William Beveridge defined "full employment" as where the number of unemployed workers equaled the number of job vacancies available. He preferred that the economy be kept above that full employment level in order to allow maximum economic production.
Long run aggregate supply
The concept of full employment has so far been used in conjunction with the long run aggregate supply (LRAS) curve, where long run potential output is also the full employment level of output. Full employment does not mean that there is 'zero unemployment', but rather that all of the people willing and able to work have jobs at the current wage rate. Full employment is the quantity of labour employed when the labour market is in equilibrium.
The following should be understood in discussions of NAIRU: governments that follow it are attempting to keep unemployment at certain levels (usually over four percent, and as high as ten or more percent) by keeping interest rates high. As interest rates increase, more bankruptcies of individuals and businesses occur, meaning less money to hire staff or purchase goods (the making and distributing of which requires workers, which means jobs). It might also be noted that the main cause of inflation is not high employment, but rather the ability of banks to make money with little to no backing with things of value (commodities such as gold and silver are some examples), thus flooding the market with money and decreasing the value of each dollar already issued in the process, assuming the economy has not kept up to this increase in issued loans. Economists such as Milton Friedman and Dr. Ravi Batra have theorized ways that a modern economy could have low inflation and near full employment (as in close to 100% of those who are not students and are healthy enough to work, and who wish to work at any given point in time), as of yet these have yet to be widely disseminated through the press or introduced by most governments. Paul Martin - former finance minister and past Prime Minister of Canada - once held that full employment could be achieved, yet let go of this idea after gaining power.
Phillips Curve before and after Expansionary Policy, with Long-Run Phillips Curve (NAIRU
Friedman's view has prevailed so that in much of modern macroeconomics, full employment means the lowest level of unemployment that can be sustained given the structure of the economy. Using the terminology first introduced by James Tobin (following the lead of Franco Modigliani), this equals the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) when the real gross domestic product equals potential output. This concept is identical to the "natural" rate but reflects the fact that there is nothing "natural" about an economy.
At this level of unemployment, there is no unemployment above the level of the NAIRU. That is, at full employment there is no cyclical or deficient-demand unemployment. If the unemployment rate stays below this "natural" or "inflation threshold" level for several years, it is posited that inflation will accelerate, i.e. get worse and worse (in the absence of wage and price controls). Similarly, inflation will get better (decelerate) if unemployment rates exceed the NAIRU for a long time. The theory says that inflation does not rise or fall when the unemployment equals the "natural" rate. This is where the term NAIRU is derived.
The level of the NAIRU thus depends on the degree of "supply side" unemployment, i.e., joblessness that can't be abolished by high demand. This includes frictional, structural, and classical unemployment.
Ideas associated with the Phillips curve questioned the possibility and value of full employment in a society: this theory suggests that full employment especially as defined normatively will be associated with positive inflation. The Phillips curve tells us also that there is no single unemployment number that one can single out as the "full employment" rate. Instead, there is a trade-off between unemployment and inflation: a government might choose to attain a lower unemployment rate but would pay for it with higher inflation rates. In 1968, Milton Friedman, leader of the monetarist school of economics, and Edmund Phelps posited a unique full employment rate of unemployment, what they called the "natural" rate of unemployment. But this is seen not as a normative choice as much as something we are stuck with, even if it is unknown. Rather than trying to attain full employment, Friedman argues that policy-makers should try to keep prices stable (a low or even a zero inflation rate). If this policy is sustained, he suggests that the economy will gravitate to the "natural" rate of unemployment automatically.
Some Economists estimate a "range" of possible unemployment rates. For example, in 1999, in the United States, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) gives an estimate of the "full-employment unemployment rate" of 4 to 6.4%. This is the estimated "structural" unemployment rate, (the unemployment when there is full employment), plus & minus, the standard error of the estimate. (Estimates for other countries are also available from the OECD.) http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/44/50/2086120.pdf
Full employability indicates an attempt by government to make people "employable" by both positive means (e.g. training courses) and negative means (e.g. cuts in benefits). It does not necessarily create full employment.
Whatever the definition of full employment, it is difficult to discover exactly what unemployment rate it corresponds to. In the United States, for example, the economy saw stable inflation despite low unemployment during the late 1990s, contradicting most economists' estimates of the NAIRU.
The idea that the full-employment unemployment rate (NAIRU) is not a unique number has been seen in recent empirical research. Staiger, Stock, and Watson found that the range of possible values of the NAIRU (from 4.3 to 7.3% unemployment) was too large to be useful to macroeconomic policy-makers. Robert Eisner suggested that for 1956-95 there was a zone from about 5% to about 10% unemployment between the low-unemployment realm of accelerating inflation and the high-unemployment realm of disinflation. In between, he found that inflation falls with falling unemployment.
Worse, the NAIRU doesn't stay the same over time and can change due to economic policy. For example, some economists argue that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's anti-inflation policies using persistently high unemployment led to higher structural unemployment and a higher NAIRU.
The active pursuit of national full employment through interventionist government policies is associated with Keynesian economics and marked the postwar agenda of many Western nations, until the stagflation of the 1970s.
Australia was the first country in the world in which full employment in a free society was made official policy by its government. On May 30, 1945, The Australian Labor Party Prime Minister John Curtin and his Employment Minister John Dedman proposed a white paper in the Australian House of Representatives titled Full Employment In Australia, the first time any government apart from totalitarian regimes had unequivocally committed itself to providing work for any person who was willing and able to work. Conditions of full employment lasted in Australia from 1941 to 1975. This had been preceded by the Harvester Judgment (1907), establishing the basic wage (a living wage); while this earlier case was overturned, it remained influential.
The United States is, as a statutory matter, committed to full employment (defined as 3% unemployment for persons 20 and older, 4% for persons aged 16 and over); the government is empowered to effect this goal. The relevant legislation is the Employment Act (1946), initially the "Full Employment Act," later amended in the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (1978). The 1946 act was passed in the aftermath of World War II, when it was feared that demobilization would result in a depression, as it had following World War I in the Depression of 1920 21, while the 1978 act was passed following the 1973 75 recession and in the midst of continuing high inflation.
The law states that full employment is one of four economic goals, in concert with growth in production, price stability, balance of trade, and budget, and that the US shall rely primarily on private enterprise to achieve these goals. Specifically, the Act is committed to an unemployment rate of no more than 3% for persons aged 20 or over and not more than 4% for persons aged 16 or over (from 1983 onwards), and the Act expressly allows (but does not require) the government to create a "reservoir of public employment" to effect this level of employment. These jobs are required to be in the lower ranges of skill and pay so as to not draw the workforce away from the private sector.
However, since the passage of this Act in 1978, the US has, never achieved this level of employment, nor has such a reservoir of public employment been created.
Some, particularly Post-Keynesian economists have suggested ensuring full employment via a job guarantee program, where those who are unable to find work in the private sector are employed by the government, the stock of thus employed public sector workers fulfilling the same function as the unemployed do in controlling inflation, without the human costs of unemployment.
- Chapter IX of the United Nations Charter
- False Consciousness
- International labour standard
- Job guarantee
- Labour (economics)
- Reserve army of labour
- Say's law
- Wage slavery
- The OECD on measuring the NAIRU
- Devine, James. 2004. The "Natural" Rate of Unemployment. In Edward Fullbrook, ed., A Guide to What's Wrong with Economics, London, UK: Anthem Press, 126-32.
- Eisner, Robert. 1997. A New View of the NAIRU. In Paul Davidson and Jan A. Kregel, eds. Improving the Global Economy. Cheltenham, UK: Edgar Elgar, 1997.
- Friedman, Milton. 1968. The Role of Monetary Policy. American Economic Review. 58(1) March: 1-21.
- Lerner, Abba. 1951. Economics of Employment, New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Staiger, Douglas, James H. Stock, and Mark W. Watson. 1997. The NAIRU, Unemployment and Monetary Policy. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 11(1) Winter: 33-49.
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