Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Has Trump Created A Praetorian Guard In Washington?

Has Trump Created A Praetorian Guard In Washington?

President Trump has already shown his Orwellian tendencies by giving a speech on Monday in the Rose Garden in which he declared his “respect” for peaceful protesters at the very moment that forces ultimately responding to an order by Trump violently attacked peaceful protesters in front of the White House to remove them from Lafayette Square, as well as priests and parishioners from the patio of their St. John’s Church across from the White House.  This attack and removal of the protesters as well as church people allowed Trump to walk across the square fot photo op at the church, holding up a Bible backwards and upside down.  While it has been admitted that ultimately this attack reflected Trump wanting to have this photo op, it remains unclear precisely which federal forces were part of the attack and exactly who was immediately commanding them.  It seems at a minimum that this involved federal Park Police, but may have included DC National Guard, and maybe  Secret service personnel, as well as maybe others, although no DC police or officials, with Mayor Bowswe opposing this action.

Most seem to think that AG Barr gave the immediate order, but he does not seem to official authority over  several of these groups, notably the Secret Service.  SecDef Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Milley were present during Trump’s walk across the square, but are now apparently claiming not to have any responsibility for this.  Esper and Milley have since come under strong criticism by many people either in the GOP such as the Lincoln Project group as well as current and former high DOD officials, including James Miller who publicly resigned from the DOD Science Board in protest as well as a strong memo by former SecDef “Mad Dog” Mattis.

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Jobs Report Not Really All That Surprising

Jobs Report Not Really All That Surprising

I am a bit taken aback at how shocked so many are about the new jobs report showing that net hiring in May was positive.  For regular readers here I have made several posts here noting that the US economy was almost certainly growing, probably for at least a month. The most recent was my one a few days ago on Rising Oil Demand, and an earlier one, where I was vaguer about the US economy, was the one on Rising Carbon Emissions.  It has been clear to me that the US economy hit bottom in terms of output about a month ago, which put it about a month behind the world economy as a whole and two months behind China.  All of this correlates with how the relative patterns of the pandemic have gone, with China a month ahead of most of the world and about two months ahead of the US.  I think it has been pretty clear that US GDP has been growing, so nobody should be all that surprised that the labor market has turned around and net hiring is now positive.

How did all this confusion come about?  I think the issue is that we get weekly reports on fresh layoffs as measured by new applications for unemployment insurance while we only get monthly reports on net hiring, with our monthly BLS reports such as the one that came out today and surprised the heck out of so many observers who should have known better.  I note that I did not forecast an increase in net hiring, but I had avoided making any forecasts on employment beyond the comment that it is a lagging indicator behind output, which would allow for net hiring to have still been negative. But I was somewhat mystified by what seemed to be such an disjuncture, clear evidence GDP was rising while there were these ongoing weekly reports of many more getting laid off.

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Global Oil Demand Rises  

Global Oil Demand Rises

Back on April 20 we saw briefly the bizarre appearance of negative oil prices in certain markets. Today for the first time in many months Brent crude briefly topped $40 per barrel, although it fell back below that level (WTI is tending to be about $3 behind it, despite a single day recently when for the first time in years it nearly matched Brent crude at only 18 cents lower). However, it looks like the recent trend of global oil prices rising will continue some more, with prices likely to go above $40 and stay there.  How far beyond that I shall not forecast.  But this is a price level where many oil exporting nations can get out of immediate financial crisis, with many of them actually making money, if not as much as they would with still higher prices.

One element of this price rise is on the supply side, especially with Saudi Arabia and Russia apparently maintaining a production cut agreement they have.  Rumors from OilPrice.com suggest there may be cheating on these agreements to come. But for now these two are holding the line on the supply side.
More important has been the increase on the demand side, which looks set to continue rising for at least the near future. I have posted previously on how global carbon emissions appear to have bottomed around April 7, with them rising since, if still well below pre-pandemic levels.  Burning fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions, so it is quite possible that oil demand has been rising since around then, even though it was 10 days after then that oil prices did their brief plunge into negative territory.
According  to OilPrice.com it is China that is leading this increase in oil demand.  It was the first economy to drop due to the pandemic, with its oil demand declining about 40% during February. However, it looks that China’s demand has returned as of May to a level 92% of its peak prior to the pandemic. That is substantial, while leaving more room for further growth.
Another nation with a large economy making an even sharper turnaround is India. In early April at the beginning of its two month lockdown its demand declined by 60%, but now it is estimated that in June its demand will return fully to its pre-pandemic level.
US demand has also made a turnaround, although it did not decline as much and is recovering more slowly. But its demand is rising and will almost certainly continue to do so, if not at a rate that would happen if there were a V-style economic recovery.
Barkley Rosser

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Ironies Of Minneapolis

Ironies Of Minneapolis

In 1944 the Minnesota Democratic Party united with the Farmer-Labor Party to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, one of the most progressive state branches of the US Democratic Party.  In 1948 its mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey introduced at the national convention the resolution supporting civil rights for African-Americans whose acceptance led to a walkout by Strom Thurmond and other Dixiecrats, with Thurmond running for president against Truman.  Humphrey would later become a famously progressive US senator and eventually LBJ’s vice president, which dragged him down due to the Vietnam War.

He was succeeded by equally progressive Arthur Naftalin as Minneapolis mayor, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, who served until 1969.  However, for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, the attempted progressive policies of these majors did not result in excellent conditions for the city’s then quite small African American population, who lived in highly segregated neighborhoods. Whatever progress did happen was substantially damaged by Naftalin’s successor as mayor, Charles Stenvig, the city’s police chief, who ran on a platform that demanded to “take the handcuffs off the police” and promised to crack down on “racial militants.” He was reelected in 1971, and many see him being a major influence in the police department of Minneapolis becoming an exceptionally racist and vicious one.

All this is recounted in a 2008 paper that appeared in the journal American Studies by Jeffrey T. Manuel and Andrew Urban, “‘You Can’t Legislate the Heart‘: Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig and the Politics of Law and Order.” vol. 43, issue 3/4, pp. 195-219.

Furthermore, with African-Americans moving more into the city in more recent years, the gap between educational outcome as well income and employment outcomes between the races has increased to be among the highest in the nation, despite the liberal past and reputation of the city.  These facts contribute to the bad racial situation in the city, which combined with the racist police department have led to this awful current situation there.

A source on the educational gap is Minnesota among worst achievement-gap states; mprnews, and a source on the income and employment gas is Something Is Rotten in the State of Minnesota politico magazine, this latter also dealing with bad racial police behavior in Minneapolis.

I thank Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for these sources, and this general account, which I did not know of.  This is indeed a sad tale, given the proud and generally admirable history of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Barkley Rosser

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Meanwhile, As Minneapolis Burns

Meanwhile, As Minneapolis Burns

So now we are all focused on the recent horrific murder in Minneapolis and now the subsequent events that are happening in many parts of the nation, with Minneapolis the epicenter.  This is serious, and I have an idea how it will end.  This has even distracted us from the usual pandemic and economic issues, which are historically serious.

But while all this has been going on, just in the past week or so our president has been engaging in a series of serious actions that will have long run serious consequences people are barely aware of if they are not undone.  It is almost as if he is just outright melting down his presidency and taking the nation with him, although we are too busy looking at the flames in Minneapolis to notice.

Here is a list without comment. The US will withdraw from the Open Skies  agreement, first proposed by President Eisenhower, that has 35 other signatories.  The administration claims the Russians are breaking the treaty, although the specific offenses publicized seem to have nothing to do with this treaty at all.  This follows Trump withdrawing us from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, the the TPP, and the Iran JCPOA nuclear deal that Iran was adhering to.  Today it was announced that the US will withdraw from the World Health Organization. The administration is proposing changing the status of Hong Kong in connection with the US as well as possibly forcing Chinese corporations to leave the New York stock exchange, not to mention that the daughter of the CEO of Huawei is about to be extradited to the US to be prosecuted for fraud in connection with violating US sanctions against Iran. Another round of EPA regulations are to be ended. Trump refuses to provide aid to the US Postal Service, which might go bankrupt later this year, with Trump declaring that voting by mail is a rigged fraud. He has also issued an executive order to allow the FTC to make social media subject to lawsuits by his conservative allies. And then also today it was announced that his official pandemic task force is now effectively not functional.

There  is more, but all that is more than quite enough.

Barkley Rosser

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Death And The Pandemic Economy

Death And The Pandemic Economy

The relation between death and the pandemic economy is a fraught one that has become hotly debated, although with not much clear empirical evidence.  I note that recently over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has had a series of posts on this matter in various forms.  Obviously a big issue has been the claim by the anti-lockdown crowd that not reopening the economy quickly will lead to an increase in suicides by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed people out there.  There certainly have been many studies in the past showing a variety of bad social outcomes from high unemployment, including suicides, domestic abuse, drug abuse, depression, and more. There does seem to be some strong evidence of several of these notably higher domestic abuse and depression.

When it comes to suicide and death more broadly, the empirical picture is very murky.  Menzie in one of his recent posts reported on a regression he ran covering monthly data from 1998 to very recently that used dummies for months and then unemployment rates and suicides (in the US) and found the an unexpected “wrong sign” with lower suicides correlated with higher unemployment, although this was not a statistically significant result. He provides no explanation for why this odd result seems to be there, but it does show that this is not a simple matter.

Regarding current data on the main question, so far there does not seem to be any data showing a noticeable rise in suicides in the US since the pandemic, with only reports of some increases among medical personnel, who have suffered from overwork, stress, and even guilt, along with fear.  That we might be seeing that out of them is completely understandable.

So why might we not be seeing much increase in suicides so far despite all the things going on such as increased depression as well as unemployment and more that would suggest we might expect to see it?  Some have suggested a “wartime” effect: people are suffering, but they know others are as well and so rally around the flag to hang in there. This rally around the flag effect even worked for awhile to boost Trump’s polls for a few weeks in late March and early April until people saw how we was botching things, and now his polls are lower than they were before, even as those of some generally unpopular leaders in other hard hit nations like Italy, France, and Spain have seen their poll numbers continue to be noticeably higher than they were previously.

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More On “Obamagate!”

More On “Obamagate!”

Just three items.

1) Today (or yesterday late?) AG William Barr appointed yet another Special Counsel to investigate “Obamagate!” John Bash of the Texas Western District of the DOJ. He has been assigned to investigate the various unmaskings of Michael Flynn that happened between the election of 2016 and Flynn’s interrogation by the FBI after Trump became president in January, 2017. The full absurdity of this is that even Barr in making this assignment recognized that there is nothing illegal about unmasking, not even anything improper.  Nevertheless, he thinks this particular set of unmaskings needs further investigation by the Department of Justice.

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“Dr. Doom” At It Again: Predicts 10-Year Depression

“Dr. Doom” At It Again: Predicts 10-Year Depression

That would be Nouriel Roubini of NYU who got his moniker back during the Great Recession, which he called pretty well in 2006.  He did this clearly yesterday in an interview in The Intelligencer, although he has been pushing something like this for some time now, bringing in all sorts of things like climate change and more pandemics to reinforce this long run forecasr, although he thinks in a decade there may be a sufficient restrucuting of the economy to improve the situation.  While he mostly does not talk about what should or could be done in the US, he seems to improve of a German type economy where the unemployment rate has risen only 1% in comparison to the massive increase towards 20%  we have sseen in the US.  Of course, Germany has managed the coronavirus much better than has the US, but they also have their Kurtzarbeit labor system that tends to preserve employment better during downturns, not to mention a broader social safety net as part of its social market economy.  He says things might have been better if we had Bernie Sanders as president, but then notes that compared to Merkel in Germany and even Boris Johnson in UK, Sanders is a right winger.

 

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RIP Oliver Williamson

RIP Oliver Williamson

Oliver Williamson died yesterday at age 87, I do not know of what. He was famous as the main developer of New Institutional Economics, following the influence of Ronald Coase, which emphasizes the role of transactions costs in the formation and development of economic (and some other) institutions.  He received the Nobel Prize in 2009, along with Elinor Ostrom, but his influence was really quite vast for a man from a working class background, born in Superior, Wisconsin.

I checked, and although there may be another one ahead of him, as near as I can tell at his death only one other living economist had more Google Scholar citations. Andrei Shleifer has about 295,000 (h has a problem getting that trip to Stockholm because of his infamous corruption problem involving Russia), while Ollie had about 276,000.  The all time leader is Karl Marx at about 333,000.

A reason for this is that his work became enormously influential across other disciplines, especially management and law.  Indeed, he is one of the few individuals I know of (I know of only one other, Shyam Sunder at Yale) who was simultaneously in an economics department, a separate business school (I think the Management dept), and a law school, all of which he was at UC-Berkeley.  The only other person I know of who was in more departments was the late polymathic Nobel Prize winner, Herbert Simon, more on him below.

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Maybe This Is Not (Technically) A Recession?

Maybe This Is Not (Technically) A Recession?

Here I am using what is the journalistic definition of a “recession,” also used in many nations although not officially in the US, where these things are determined ex post by an NBER committee.  Anyway, that “journalistic” definition is that there be two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.  Today in the Washington Post I saw a story on global carbon emissions, which are very closely correlated with GDP, if not perfectly. Anyway, it appears that global carbon emissions hit bottom on April 7 and have been slowly rising since then (not sure about US separately, although US somewhat behind most other nations on the covid curve and so on the economic impact as well). I note that April 7 is one week into the second quarter.

This means it is very likely that at the global level we shall see positive economic growth in the second quarter, basically rising since the end of the first week of the quarter, although due to reporting lags in many countries this will not show up as positive growth in the data until later, possibly by the end of the month. This growth is slow, but it is positive, definitely not a V.

So, assuming this slow growth continues,the world will have seen a massive shock in the first quarter, with most of that in a single month, March, the largest such short term shock in recorded history by far. But it looks that it may have hit bottom quite quickly, then to turn into a slow recovery shortly after the end of the first quarter.  First quarter is certainly going to be negative, but second looks very well like it might be positive, at least at the global level, hence, not technically quite a “recession” according to this journalistic definition.

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