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The Debate Over the Depreciation of Intangible Capital
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Andrew Smithers, World Economics, March 2020
Spending on intellectual property (IP) is classed in national income accounts (NIA) as investment and represents a proportion of total investment as measured. It is, however, rapidly depreciated so that it has only a minor impact on gross domestic product (GDP). Some economists argue that the amount of such spending is being understated and the depreciation rate overstated. If these claims were correct, they would result in large increases in the measured levels of gross and net output and reduce the share taken by labour incomes. If correct the resulting changes would also be important for economic theories. Current data show that the labour share of output is mean-reverting, thus supporting the Cobb-Douglas production function, and that q’s mean reversion results from changes in share prices. The suggested revisions to the data would undermine both. These claims require an increase in profits after depreciation in the NIA. However, they cannot be correct because independently generated data on equity returns to shareholders show that profits are already overstated. Profits need to be reduced rather than increased. The change made to NIA in 2013, by the inclusion of IP expenditure as investment, has led to widespread misunderstanding about the economy and should be reconsidered.
The NTV Model for Total Factor Productivity
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Andrew Smithers, World Economics, June 2019
The consensus model for total factor productivity is unsatisfactory; the alternative, non-technology variables (‘NTV’) model resolves the objections to it and should therefore be preferred by economists. The key objections to the consensus model are that it is untestable, its assumption about corporate behaviour is falsified when tested and, for the accounting framework to function, the labour/capital ratio has to be as flexible on old capital as it is on new: an assumption which seems most unlikely. The differences in the results are non-trivial and the NTV model has positive implications for economic policy by showing how they could be changed to boost growth. NTV comprises all the variables, other than changes in labour and technology, that determine the level of investment and the capital stock. Changes in NTV are the net impact on the incentive to invest resulting from changes in the individual constituents, which are profit margins, the cost of equity, the cost of debt, leverage, corporation tax and the hurdle rate, which is the minimum expected return on equity needed to make new investment worthwhile in the opinion of management. The consensus model assumes that investment is partly determined by changes in the cost of capital while ignoring the impact of changes in the cost of equity and debt and in leverage. I show that this assumption is unjustified and why it is preferable to use NTV.
False Perspective: The UNDP View of the World
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David Henderson, World Economics, March 2000
Despite some searching and unanswered criticisms of its treatment of statistical evidence, the UNDP Human Development Report has become established as a widely-quoted and influential survey of the world scene. The 1999 Report, reviewed here, focuses on ‘globalization’. This is described as a dominant influence on the recent economic fortunes of developing countries in particular, and as a primary cause of continuing poverty and growing inequality in the world. The author argues that the Report provides neither argument nor evidence in support of this thesis; that it takes no account of other factors that have strongly influenced economic performance; that its main prescription for the world, of reforms in ‘global governance’, is largely beside the point; and that its whole approach is crudely anti-liberal. The author concludes by placing the Report, as also the economists who have aligned themselves with it, in the wider context of anti-liberalism today.



Displaying: 1-3 of 3