The Moorish Wanderer

Labour Market Engineering

Very short post about the peculiarities of Moroccan labour market: the active population has never been so low: the latest figures from HCP show a declining trend with fewer than 50% of the total population made up of the active population. Since fertility rates have been going down for quite a while, it means many potentially active individuals prefer (or are made) to stay out of the labour market: students with longer academic curricula, stay-at-home housewives, retirees and ultimately the unemployed.

I was looking at the data and comparing it to my own models because there is a frightening story to tell here. Demographics in Morocco tend to be similar in many aspects to the ageing societies of Western Europe, with a falling youthful population (individuals aged 17 and less have reached their absolute peak in 1994) whereas the elderly are increasing their numbers substantially – 24% of the population by 2050 according to HCP projections. In essence, the present demographics allow at best for a total workforce of 4.5 Million individuals, less than 14.4% of the total population.

Elederly population is expected to make up 1/5 of the population by the mid-century, with no active population to match.

Elderly population is expected to make up 1/5 of the population by the mid-century, with no active population to match.

And there is an even smaller fraction of these: women make up for almost half of the 15-59 population, yet their occupation rate does not rise above 30%. I mean, the 70% are supposed to be dutiful housewives, yet they do not procreate enough. The traditional family model has collapsed a long time ago. Thanks to structural changes in gender-based division of labour as well as harsh economic realities, there are coexisting benchmarks for women to choose from. Yet even if the mainstream outcome remains that of stay-at-home mum, fertility has not follow suit. Perhaps it is time to switch gears and go for massive arrivals on the labour market, let these women leave their homes to earn a living too.
In absolute and relative terms, Moroccan families will procreate less and less: in 2039, there will be less than a Million newborns, and the young Moroccans (14 and less) by 2050 will make up less than 17% of the total population. I would argue the only viable pro-traditional (or even nuclear) family discourse is a higher fertility rate. Clearly it is not the case, so in order to improve our immediate and medium term economic position, there is a need of flooding the labour market with all these women, some educated, others not so much, but at least total productivity would increase.

Some predictions about this: as a general rule, structural shocks (changes in the economy that are not due to physical capital stock) tend to have a positive impact on wages, especially skilled labour wages, and only a marginal effect on total hours worked; the latter is due to the very inflexible Moroccan labour market: every 1% ‘positive shock’ increases wages immediately by an annual 6.1%, and generates a net annual social benefit of 2.3%. These massive arrivals on the labour market are likely to increase unemployment dramatically, but there is a need of increasing rapidly female occupation rates, or growth will be structurally sluggish in the next decades.

Do We Need Unemployment Benefits?

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on February 17, 2011

What a bold question! Well, I assume it is. Because the following will sound pretty strange from a self-confessed left-wing radical, who belongs to a political side that is known to be keen on supporting the unemployed, and in the Moroccan case, very close to the unemployed graduate movement. Therefore, do allow me to put in a disclaimer: I absolutely feel sympathy towards the unemployed movement, but I disagree with their almost fetishist obsession with jobs in the civil service. Indeed, constitutional rights allow for any citizen to apply for a job in the public sector. However, this right is narrowed down by the law, then by administrative regulations. It seems that even the idea of an entrance exam is too much for the most extreme of them to bear.

Now that this matter is settled, let us turn to the idea itself; Why would Morocco need an unemployed benefits program? First, because the bulk of our unemployed population is not voluntary on the dole. They are genuinely looking for a job, and for many of them, the underground economy is providing for their living. Benefits, when properly designed and applied would allow them to live in dignity, and look for proper jobs. The way I see it, the benefits are there not to disturb some market mechanisms that are yet to be defined and enforced, but to set the standards for better labour-management relationship, and for the public authorities to encourage individuals to move from underground to legal, ‘official’ economy.

Let us first consider the figures on unemployment and inflation. The relationship is considered to be cardinal in mainstream academia. The well-known NAIRU (non accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) is a good start for us to estimate how deep involuntary unemployment is, and thus provide the public authorities with the financial means to deal with it.

Anti-inflationary policies have been more successful. Unemployment however, not so much. Or is it because of anti-inflationary policies? (World Bank & RDH Figures)

When one considers the relatively recent historical series on inflation and unemployment, one is surprised to notice that there was a surprisingly effective effort put into taming inflation (and Morocco can pride itself to be in a full deflation mode without much damage to growth) while policies, when carried out, look despairingly ineffective in view of the near stable level of unemployment. The question remains: why does unemployment remain that high? In a precedent post, I mentioned data that ruled out any serious effect minimum wage might have. There is also little, if no evidence pointing to relationship between labour legislation and unemployment. If anything, it is favourable to the management, especially in the important economic sectors like textile, Telecom services and other outsourced services. I should elaborate on that later on.

When simple econometric computations are run on unemployment and inflation, results look a bit inconclusive. Indeed, the Moroccan Philips Curve does not look like the theoretical one, and if anything, any correlation is too low and too insignificant to be of use. Though it might be too early to tell, there seems to be no direct link between anti-inflationary policies and unemployment. It does however deny policy makers from such argument.

They failed in addressing the problem because they did not devise the proper policies, not because of the so-called necessary trade-off between inflation and unemployment. To their credit, it must be pointed out that a particular sub-population was not fully cooperative; in fact, it was adamant in its claim for public service recruitment.

Moving on. The current level of unemployment can be reduced. Why so? Because even with sketchy econometric models, there is a way to compute the level of unemployed people that can be put to jobs. If I may direct the reader’s attention to a post I wrote on estimating the output gap for the Moroccan economy, the computations reached the conclusion that, as late as 2009, the Moroccan factory is producing below its productive capacity. The terms of the equation are simple: because output gap is negative, the economy can take on more labour so as to lift-up real GDP until the potential GDP is reached. We know the existing level of labour stock, we know exactly (well, with a confidence interval of 95%) how much labour adds to GDP, there remains only to compute how much is needed from the unemployed to bridge that gap in labour force. Estimates are such that an additional 5 basis points to the workforce  –ceteris paribus, mainly the capital stock- are needed to bridge the output gap, and certainly much more if capital stock was expanded too. 5% looks a lot (that is, after all, about 53% of the unemployment rate) but then again, because convergence process (the so-called catching-up) with potential output takes time, it remains quite a reasonable target. In absolute terms, that means some 482.000 people would find new jobs. Before I go any further, I must apologize for the sketchy figures, which is mainly due to the data (and my own limited knowledge on the particular field of labour economics)

No particular correlation can be observed from the graph

Now that we know the current level of unemployment can be cured up to 5%, why bother about introducing benefits for those on the dole? First because, just like other vulnerable populations, the public authorities rely on family and tribal solidarity to look after the special needs, the divorcées, the underdogs and the misfits. The large-scale shift in values, the rising individualism (whatever has been said on the matter, RDH surveys can testify) all these changes that are breaking -or already did so- the traditional mould so many people long for (and you know what they are called? reactionaries, that right) and so there’s a need to implement nation-wide programs, like the employment or support benefits. The targeted  population, following the HCP figures, would be as follows: about 700.000 unemployed with little or no qualification, not so much a burden on the nation, considering benefits are usually lower than the minimum wage;

Now, I don’t have much time, nor data to elaborate on how these benefits should be defined (and I think legislation here plays a critical role) but under the assumption of average benefits of MAD 1100 per month per individual is not only workable, but provides invaluable teachings in order to expand the program and protect the left-behind, while encouraging them to fight back and return to work. Incidentally, the whole annual cost for such a scheme is approximately MAD 7 Billion, that is 13% of a wealth tax levy on the millionaires in Morocco (at the low rate of 40%). So in essence, a benefit scheme is perfectly workable, so long as it works as it serves a two-fold objective: first, as a temporary stipend for those unemployed (that would include training costs, job lookout, etc…) and as the nation’s solidarity with those definitely unable to contribute to society.

I should like to devote a piece on how these benefits should be designed so as to encourage rather than subdue work, but there it is: it is high time we grabbed the bull by the horn and start a debate on how efficient benefits schemes should be. Their introduction is now beyond debate, it is a necessity.