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The “Trump Effect” On Happiness

The “Trump Effect” On Happiness

 In a column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank has written on “Trump has made our lives worse. Here’s the proof.”  He labels this apparent outcome of the “Trump Effect.”

Since 1972 the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has annually studied the nation’s mood. They survey people to find out how they identify their level of happiness. As of this summer, an all-time record low of 14% declared themselves “very happy.” This compares with 29% saying that at the lowest point after the 2008 financial crisis. OTOH, fully 36% declared themselves to be “satisfied” with their financial situation and a record low expressed dissatisfaction, the survey taken at a time when expanded unemployment benefits were still in effect.  But Milbank declared that this amounted to a disjuncture between peoples’ economic conditions and declared happiness, with this contradicting, or at least failing to support, a longstanding finding from happiness surveys in the past.

This may be an overstated conclusion. Milbank did not report on it, but studies over the years have found that higher-income people tend to declare themselves to be happier than lower-income people. This may still hold.  In the US this finding has been part of the famous “Easterlin Paradox,” that higher-income people report higher levels of life satisfaction (or happiness) at any given point in time while over time as national income rises, happiness levels do not rise. Indeed, another data source with a longer time horizon on this found US national happiness to have gradually declined since 1957. It must be noted that this finding of declining national happiness as national income rises does not show up in al nations, although it has been observed in several others besides the US, leading to much controversy and debate. Richard Easterlin himself (still alive well into his 90s) has emphasized the impact of distribution of income and perceived economic security, with peoples’ happiness depending on how they compare themselves with others.  So even though income rose rapidly, the ending of old age pensions and rising income inequality led happiness levels in China to decline from around 1990 to around 2004, although they have increased again since as pensions were extended to rural areas.

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The Danger Of Fascism With The Death Of RBG

The Danger Of Fascism With The Death Of RBG

 I try to avoid these terms like “fascism,” but it has become clear that Donald J. Trump actively seeks to become an at least authoritarian leader of the US, indeed openly arguing that the Constitution’s limit of only two terms should not hold for him.  We face a clear danger of a contested election that may end up in the Supreme Court. If Trump can put a flunky into the court before the election we may have them putting him in despite a situation where he has clearly lost. And given his recent behavior, backed by a friendly SCOTUS, he would be in position to impose a fascist dictatorship in this nation.

I also note that she died on Rosh Hashanah, and in the Jewish tradition this is a portentous time to die, with one doing so being especially blessed.  I do not know how all this will turn out, and I can think of scenarios where her death at this time may lead to a more progressive future, but she was a very great woman deserving of the most profound respect and admiration, who should rest in the greatest of peace.

Clearly, Mitch McConnell hypocritically seeks to impose a Trump appointee before the election, or if not then, during the following lame-duck session.  So far Romney (R-UT) and Murkowski (R-AK) have said they will not go along with this, but two more GOP Sens must step forward to block this. That may happen.  But if it does not, then the Dem senators must simply shut the Senate down, which I think is about the only thing they can do, given that the filibuster was abolished (by Dems)for judicial appointments. But I think they can simply bring the whole place to a halt, and it may come to that.

Barkley Rosser

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Au Revoir, Robert J. Samuelson

Au Revoir, Robert J. Samuelson

 For quite a few years not so long ago I was regularly posting here variations on “Today is Monday, so on the WaPo editorial page Robert J. (not related to Paul A.)* Samuelson is calling yet again for Social Security benefits to be cut,” and he did indeed do that very frequently over a long time.  However, today was his final column for the Washington Post, so we shall no longer have RJS to kick around, sob! It was titled, “Goodbye, readers, and good luck – you’ll need it.”  There is also a letter to the editor from former publisher, Donald Graham, praising RJS and reminiscing knowing him as a freshman in 1962 at Harvard.  Graham noted RJS eschewed a nominal non-partisan position and studied and thought hard about his columns, even as Graham himself disagrees with some of RJS’s long-held positions, noting in particular RJS’s longstanding support for privatizing Amtrak.  He also noted, as RJS himself stated in this final column, he is not an economist; he has merely reported on economics for a long time, starting at the Post in 1969 and columnizing on economics since as far back as 1977 in various venues.

I also disagree with RJS on privatizing Amtrak, although this is not a topic he has written much in recent years, although he did mention it in this final column.  I would argue that he has ignored that governments fund highways, which gives vehicles a competitive edge on trains, which governments do not provide or support.  So I certainly see a case for government aid to railroads, with Amtrak certainly one of the more heavily used lines in the nation.

I should note what RJS spent most of his last column writing about. He argues the biggest story of his career has been “the rise and fall of macroeconomics.”  But then he turned to economists. Much of it is on the money.  He says some nice things about us in general: “With some exceptions most are intelligent, informed, engaged and decent.” But then we have been wrong about a lot of things, such as deciding at various points that recessions will never happen again, although RJS admits that he did not recognize the housing bubble or foresee the Great Recession (some of us here or associated with us here did, but RJS largely ignored us). He also accurately notes that many economists take stronger positions than they might otherwise out of a desire for power and position in this or that administration, and also claim to have more influence on the economy than we do.  And then he notes the unwillingness of most to change their minds after a certain point, something he himself exhibited on some of his more strongly held views.

 

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The Bahrain-Israel Mutual Recognition

The Bahrain-Israel Mutual Recognition

 This freshly announced mutual recognition follows the one between the UAE and Israel, which set a new pattern, with Bahrain and possibly others (Oman?) predicted to follow.  I am not surprised it was Bahrain that was next, although it may prove to be the only one.  There are several reasons why it was most likely to be next, and why we might not see Oman join in, although that cannot be ruled out.

I see three reasons why Bahrain was most likely to be next, although there are really two fundamental ones with the third arising from those.  The most fundamental one is that of the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), now largely in shatters due to the sanctions on one of them (Qatar) by several others (Saudi Arabia (KSA), UAE, and Bahrain), is the only one where a Sunni minority is ruling over a Shia majority, with the Sunni-Shia conflict a central part of the conflict with Iran that many of them have, with Iran run by Shia, of course, where they are a majority.  The Shia of Bahrain have been restive and rose up against King Hamad during the Arab Spring that began in 2011, only to be violently put down. But, unsurprisingly, the king and those around him are especially worried about the Shia and have strongly supported the anti-Iran coalition, which includes Israel. It is this alliance that is at the heart of the new round of recognitions, with UAE leader, Prince Zayed, arguably the leader of the anti-Iran group in the GCC, along with KSA Crown Prince, MbS, although due to opposition of the Saudi religious leaders who are concerned about the Palestinians, MbS himself is not seen as likely to follow UAE and Bahrain to recognize Israel, although there is clearly a de facto alliance against Iran between them.

 

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How Big Of a “Hoax” Is That “Dirty Dossier”?

How Big Of a “Hoax” Is That “Dirty Dossier”?

 In the wake of the Atlantic story by Jeffrey Goldberg about President Trump reportedly referring to the dead Americans lying in the Aisne-Marne Cemetery near Paris as “losers”  and “suckers,” along with a lot of other embarrassing things for him, Trump has called Goldberg a “slimeball” and that that this report is another “hoax” like “the dirty dossier” of Steele, along with “Russia, Russia, Russia” also being a “hoax,” of course, despite the recent bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report further verifying that there was even more Russian interference in the 2016 election than the Mueller Report verified (105 meetings between Trump campaign officials and various Russians, with several of those officials then lying under oath about their contacts).

Of course, Trump is on tape calling the late John McCain a “loser” because he was captured by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. I thought when he said that it would be the end of this then primary campaign, but it barely budged him a notch, the first sign of how he could get away with outrageous statements and actions that would do in other politicians.  But his base viewed McCain as a “RINO” traitor to their cause, so it was OK to diss him hard.  But now this new report is hitting Trump hard, especially given the widespread reporting of polls showing active military members supporting Biden over him and reports of retired Marines who has Trump signs in their yards throwing them in the garbage. The dead at Aisne-Marne did not run against Trump in a primary or contest for control of the Republican Party.  They died in a crucial battle that stopped the final German effort to conquer  Paris in the WW I.

So Russia was not a hoax, but what about that infamous Steele dossier?  Of course for those who get all their news from Fox, where Trump is also having a problem with their national security reporter supporting some of the Goldberg article, referring to the Steele dossier as “dirty” is a regular button to push to make the faithful sit up and bark their support.  It is like “Benghazi,” something pounded on so often the faithful are fully indoctrinated that there is something there. About every other night Hannity reminds the suckers that it “has been completely discredited” and “was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.”

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Should We Fear A Reappearance Of Inflation?

Should We Fear A Reappearance Of Inflation?

 In today’s Washington Post Robert J. Samuelson has raised the possibility that the Federal Reserve may be setting the US up for a reappearance of inflation.  He invoked the 1960s and 1970s when supposedly the Fed allowed inflation to get out of control out of a supposedly misguided effort to bring down unemployment by allowing successive small increases in inflation. Supposedly the newly released report on changed Fed policies may be taking us back to those bad old days, even though for now RJS admits that inflation is low, with expectations of inflation only at 1.34%.  How worried should we be?

OK, I am not going to say that a resurgence of inflation is impossible.  I can imagine it possibly resurging, with such a development perhaps being associated with a sharp decline of the US dollar, perhaps associated with a turn from its use as a reserve currency.  I do not see that happening immediately, but there is theoretical literature that suggests that such an event could happen rather suddenly at some point.  If so, then maybe it could happen.  Is the new Fed policy likely to bring this on?

I suppose one reason to be concerned is that the supposedly new policy approach has been rather opaque.  I have had trouble getting a clear picture what the changes are in the policy. The main reports have been relatively undramatic, basically an idea that at least through the next year there will be no interest rate increases.  Probably a bigger deal is that the Fed might tolerate inflation higher than the 2% targeted rate.

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There Will Be No Postponing Social Security Taxes

There Will Be No Postponing Social Security Taxes

 Among the items that President Trump issued an “executive action” about three weeks ago was that for people earning less than around $104.000 per year, their fica taxes were to be postponed until Jan. 1, not cut, merely postponed, although Trump made noises that if he is reelected he will simply eliminate the fica tax entirely, although unclear how he plans to fund Social Security without it.

Anyway, Allan Sloan in the Washington Post reports that this initiative is now just completely dead in the water.  It has too many problems, too many opponents, and action on implementing it in the Treasury Department has simply stalled out, almost certainly for good due to all this.  Quite aside from people facing potentially huge fica tax bills in January due to four months of postponement, it apparently is very complicated to set this up, and would take many months to do so, involving businesses and the Treasury Dept. having to put in place all kinds of mechanisms to figure out exactly which people would get their taxes postponed and which would not.  A real killer is that businesses pretty much across the board have objected to this proposal, with this now official as 30 different such groups have called for the cessation of this effort through the US Chamber of Commerce.  This is just going nowhere.

This should be contrasted with the temporary fica tax cut that Obama had in place during 2011-2012. There are two large differences between that and what Trump has so incompetently proposed. One is that Obama had it pass through Congress, not be the result of a presidential directive or memo.  The other is that it was completely simple: all Social Security taxes stopped being collected for the period in question, not a system based on treating people differently based on their incomes and also not a postponement.  It was a straight cut, if only a temporary one.

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An Increasing Anomaly In The US Balance Of Payments

An Increasing Anomaly In The US Balance Of Payments

 On Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has posted about an increase in the scale of US international net indebtedenss. Since the late 1980s the US has been a net debtor internationally, borrowing more from abroad then we are lending and investing there.  The increase in this net indebtedness has noticeably accelerated since our current POTUS took office, and especially this year.  The size of that net indebtedness has gone from about 40% of US GDP to somewhat more than 55%, a pretty substantial increase, given that we have been in this condition for over three decades and in three years by more than a third.  The fiscal stimulus of this year has definitely been overwhelmingly financed by foreign borrowing.

This increase in net indebtedness highlights a longstanding anomaly that now looks even more anomalous.  Even though the US has been a net debtor for over three decades, it has remained a positive net earner on capital income arising from all those international capital movements in and out of the US.  This is mostly measured by the primary income part of the international capital account, which last year was in surplus at a bit over $60 billion.  What is more curious is that this does not seem to have changed much at all over the last five years, some slight changes here and there, but mostly unchanged.  I confess to being mystified as to how an increase in net indebtedness by more than a third has led to essentially no change in the capital income payments situation.

 

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Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

 A half-century ago at 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970, the New Year’s Gang set off an ammonium nitrate bomb in the back of a Ford pickup truck next to Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  They were aiming it at the Army Mathematics Research Center, then directed by my later father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.]. However, they were notoriously the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight and hit the physics department instead, killing a physics post-doc, Robert Fassnacht, and injuring several other people, as well damaging buildings even blocks away, aside from the major damage to Sterling Hall itself.

Of the gang, three would eventually be apprehended and serve time in jail: the two Armstrong brothers from the east side of Madison, sons of an Oscar Mayer plant worker, Karl, the group’s leader who was caught first and served seven years, and his younger brother, Dwight, who served three years and is no longer alive, with David Fine of Baltimore also serving three years.  The fourth member, Leo Burt, remains at large.

Last October I wrote an 8-page essay reminiscing about the bombing that contains details both representing my peculiar perspective as well as some tidbits not widely public information.  I am willing to send it to anybody who requests it of me.  It contains six parts.

The first and longest part is about my relations with my parents, with a lot of information specifically about my late father.  We respected each other personally, but disagreed politically, although I never approved of violence and thus severely disapproved of the bombing, as well as some personal mistreatment my parents experienced.

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Whining About Lack Of Academic Leadership

Whining About Lack Of Academic Leadership

 At my so-called university named for the fourth president, the slave-owning “Father of the Constitution.”  No, I am not going to talk about the racism issue, which there is some effort to deal with on campus, notably in renaming three buildings named for Confederate figures, with our Provost originally from South Africa speaking reasonably intelligently about that issue.

No, we had our annual general faculty meeting to begin the year, classes supposedly beginning on Wednesday, supposedly a mixture of live and online, although likely to go totally online any minute as Eastern Mennonite University also in Harrisonburg just went totally online and delayed student move-in due to an outbreak of the virus, and Facebook is full of photos of our students partying without masks and packed together on balconies. We will not be far behind on that one.

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