NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It could be that something new is occurring in the world economy, not just a regular business cycle.
Inflation in the eurozone has fallen below zero in September, year over year, it's been less than 0.5% since July 2014. Growth is modest at best. And this is with the European Central Bank in its sixth month of a 19-month experiment with quantitative easing. Meanwhile, Japan might be in another recession, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on the brink of another round of stimulus. Elsewhere, the economies in many emerging nations are struggling to keep their heads above water. China is given some of the blame for these situations. Oil prices, along with other commodities, are also named as villains.
But inflation is also low in the U.S. The favorite measure of officials at the Federal Reserve is the price index for personal consumption expenditures, and it's coming in substantially below the Fed's objective of 2.0%. Recently, the core PCE has been coming in around at a 1.3% percent rate on a year-over-year basis. The total index, which includes food and energy prices, is coming in below 0.5%. Economic growth in the U.S., while stronger than in most countries around the world, has grown at a compound rate of only 2.3% since the start of the current period of recovery.
The general reaction of governments to these conditions is to propose more programs of government stimulus based upon economic models with a Keynesian foundation. Maybe something else is called for, however. Maybe the world has changed in a fundamental way.
Two possible factors that might be contributing to this situation: first, the growing role that information technology is playing in the world; and second, the fact that most of the world has relied upon monetary and fiscal stimulus over the past 60 years or so to achieve higher rates of economic growth.
In the first case, the world is finishing up its transition to an electronically connected information network on a global basis.
The first thoughts on this change were that it would increase productivity of both labor and capital and this would result in an economic golden age.
Well, the productivity improvement has not shown up in the national income figures and, in terms of employment, the labor market in the U.S. has shifted to where the labor force participation rate has dropped below 63% percent, the lowest it has been since the late 1970s. Part-time work is now a big part of the work that is available and this will probably continue to grow in the future.
And, the people that are getting the jobs are those that have higher levels of education. And, over the past decade, more and more education seems to be the criteria for not only getting a job, but also in staying employed. And, those cohorts within labor markets that have the least education have the worst record for employment.
The whole approach to employment and education, including the idea of lifetime education, must change to meet the needs of the modern labor market that is more and more dependent on proficiency with information technology.
Secondly, since the end of World War II, most governments in the world adopted economic policies that were, one way or another, built upon Keynesian-type strategies. That is, these governments used fiscal deficits and expansionary monetary policies, basically strategies of credit inflation to stimulate their economies in an attempt to attain and sustain high levels of employment.
These programs were relatively successful in their earlier years, but investors came to expect these policies, because politicians got elected by supporting them, and by learning how to "game" the system that assumed that people would continue to act in the way they had before the programs were implemented.
Price inflation resulted, and by the early 1970s was significant enough of an issue that wage and price controls were instituted in the U.S.
The credit inflation of the government spread to the private sector. John Kay, an economist and columnist for the Financial Times, has captured some of this movement in his new book Other People's Money: The Real Business of Finance.
Kay describes, for example, how the finance sector of the U.S. economy grew from 4.9% in 1980 to 8.6% in 2006. The major banks went from depository intermediaries to financial conglomerates that feasted on fees and trading results. And, these moves were easily completed with the new information technology that allowed the financial industry to "slice and dice" cash flows into about any form that a purchaser of cash flows would want.
A result of these developments is that money and credit creation went around and around in the financial circuit of the economy with very little spill over into the "real" or productive sectors of the economy.
The production of financial products and services are positions where there is little productivity change.
Financial institutions also went for employees that had a higher level of education than was wanted at the industrial level.
These changes require a rethinking of the economic models we use and a rethinking of what kinds of government policies are needed to help re-structure economies. This rethinking will also include discussions about what is needed to help all people make a transition into the modern world.
More of the same will not get the economies of the world going again.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.