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

Employment by community size

Brookings Institute points us to:

Big, techy metros like San Francisco, Boston, and New York with populations over 1 million have flourished, accounting for 72 percent of the nation’s employment growth since the financial crisis. By contrast, many of the nation’s smaller cities, small towns, and rural areas have languished. Smaller metropolitan areas (those with populations between 50,000 and 250,000) have contributed less than 6 percent of the nation’s employment growth since 2010 while employment remains below pre-recession levels in many ‘micro’ towns and rural communities (those with populations less than 50,000).

Two graphs demonstrate part of the geography of markets and growth. Of course even the 1 per cent metros have divergent economic trends within them. The graphs make useful visualizations for discussion. Market forces are unlikely to change this on its own even if it is considered a problem generally:

Employment growth by size

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A note about the financial markets

A note about the financial markets

The markets are closed today in observation of former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral. In the meantime, let me offer a brief few observations (pontifications?) about my sense of the immediate and longer term trend.

First off, here is a broad look at the last 10 years for the S&P 500 (blue, right scale) and 10 year Treasury bond (red, left scale):

The moves in the bond market look exaggerated, because the values are between 1.4% at its lowest, and 4% at its highest. Basically in the last 10 years yields on the 10 year bond completed their slow decline from about 20% in 1980, then went sideways 2011 and 2017, and this year started what I suspect will be an equally long term climb (although whether they will peak in a few decades at 6% or 600%, I have no clue).

Meanwhile the stock market quadrupled in value (!), although with a few hiccups along the way, particularly in 2010, 2011, 2015-16, and this year.

In other words, in the past 10 years bonds paid you very little, while stocks rewarded you handsomely.

Next, let me take a look at a few of those hiccups. First, here is the 2010-11 period:

Note that on several occasions (roughly mid-2010 and mid-2011) stocks declined by roughly 10%, and bond yields declined in tandem.

The same pattern appears in October 2014 and January 2016:

This is called a “flight to safety.” Stock investors get spooked for some reason or other, and run into the relative safety of bonds. Stock prices fall, and bond prices rise, which means bond yields fall.

That’s what I think is happening at the moment. After a 40% run-up beginning immediately after  the 2016 US Presidential election (20% of which was in December 2017 and January 2018 alone):

this year stocks have gone sideways in roughly a 15% range:

In the broad view, investors got too exuberant in 2017 mainly, I suspect, in anticipation of the tax cut goodies, and once the goodies took effect, realized that all of their value – and then some – was already priced in. In the close-up view, the past month looks like another “flight to safety.”

NOTE: Complete speculation alert!: Because these things tend to inflict surprise on as many people as possible, my *guess* is that the carnage will continue until roughly the moment that 2 to 10 year bond yields invert. Then, once people are sure that the end is nigh, both will reverse higher, at least temporarily ending the inversion.

Finally, what is also interesting about this year is that it appears to mark a “change of season” in the relationship between stock and bond performance. From 1981 through 1998, stock prices and bond yields generally moved in the opposite directions (stocks up, yields down). Then, from 1998 until this past January, bond yields and stock prices tended to move in the same direction — not on a daily basis, but in the longer view. This year, as the first and third graphs above show, stock prices and bond yields have again generally become mirror images of one another.

This year’s pattern (with rising bond yields) last happened in the 1950s, which was a period of “reflation,” i.e., bond yields and the YoY change in prices gradually increased. That’s another reason why I think we have started a new secular financial era.

End of observations/pontifications.

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Is the “Green New Deal” a Marxist Plot?

At the CEPR blog, Beat the Press, Dean Baker and Jason Hickel are debating degrowth. Dean makes the excellent point that “claims about growth” from oil companies and politicians who oppose policies to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, “are just window dressing.” I also agree, however, with the first comment in response to Dean’s post that his point about window dressing could be taken much further.

I would add that economic growth is window dressing for what used to be referred to much more aggressively as “man’s triumph over nature” or the “control of nature.” Climate change deniers are more forthright about this connection between aggression and so-called growth: “Is “Strive on — the control of nature is won, not given” a controversial statement? What does it mean for science if it is?” asks Linnea Lueken at the Heartland Institute website.

Scattered throughout his writings, Donald Winnicott made fleeting but intense criticisms of “sentimentality.” “Sentimentality is useless for parents,” he remarked in a 1949 article on the analysis of psychotic patients, “as it contains a denial of hate, and sentimentality in a mother is no good at all from the infant’s point of view.” The inference he drew from this observation was that “a psychotic patient in analysis cannot be expected to tolerate his hate of the analyst unless the analyst can hate him.”
In a 1946 article on the treatment of juvenile delinquents, he warned against “one of the biggest threats” to the use of psychological methods in the management of young offenders was “the adoption of a sentimental attitude towards crime:

If advances seem to come but are based on sentimentality, they are valueless; reaction must surely set in, and the advances had better never have been made. In sentimentality there is repressed or unconscious hate, and this repression is unhealthy. Sooner or later the hate turns up.

The most thorough discussion by Winnicott of his aversion to sentimentality is probably his 1939 article, “Aggression and its roots.” As it is only three paragraphs, I quote it in its entirety:

Finally, all aggression that is not denied, and for which personal responsibility can be accepted, is available to give strength to the work of reparation and restitution. At the back of all play, work, and art, is unconscious remorse about harm done in unconscious fantasy, and an unconscious desire to start putting things right.

Sentimentality contains an unconscious denial of the destructiveness underlying construction. It is withering to the developing child, and eventually it can make him need to show in direct form destructiveness which, in a less sentimental milieu, he could have conveyed indirectly by showing a desire to construct.

It is partly false to state that we ‘should provide opportunity for creative expression if we are to counter children’s destructive urges’. What is needed is an unsentimental attitude towards all productions, which means the appreciation not so much of talent as of the struggle behind all achievement, however small. For, apart from sensual love, no human manifestation of love is felt to be valuable that does not imply aggression acknowledged and harnessed.

He might well have added, “And I’m not so sure about sensual love.”
This all may sound somewhat arbitrary and speculative but actually it is a very compressed and jargon-free application of Melanie Klein’s developmental theory of the self. What Klein referred to as the depressive position involves an infant’s feeling of “guilt” — or in Winnicott’s less extravagant terminology, “concern” — about its aggressive fantasies toward its mother. In Klein’s rather lurid account of the infant’s aggressive fantasy:

The phantasied attacks on the mother follow two main lines: one is the predominantly oral impulse to suck dry, bite up, scoop out, and rob the mother’s body of its good contents.… The other line of attack derives from the anal and urethral impulses and implies expelling dangerous substances (excrements) out of the self and into the mother.… These excrements and bad parts of the self are meant not only to injure the object but also to control it and take possession of it.

Whether or not the infant has such unconscious aggressive fantasies about the mother’s body, Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of Exxon, expressed similar, fully-conscious ones, “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do…” Robert White-Stevens, the corporate-designated nemesis of Rachel Carson following the publication of Silent Spring, exemplified the “control of nature” faction of science:

Miss Carson maintains that the balance of nature is a major force in the survival of man, whereas the modern chemist, the modern biologist and scientist, believes that man is steadily controlling nature.

White-Stevens’s vision of a “feeble creature” penetrating “every corner of the planet,”  and “contest[ing] the very laws and powers of Nature, herself,” could have been written as a Kleinian parody of the of the infantile arrogance of scientistic triumphalism:

Within the past 100 years, man has emerged from a feeble creature, virtually at the mercy of Nature and his environment, to become the only being which can penetrate every corner of the planet, communicate instantly to anywhere on earth, produce all the food, fiber, and shelter he needs, wherever he may need it, change the topography of his lands, the sea and the universe and prepare his voyage through the very arch of heaven into space itself.

This is the stuff that science is made of, and man has learned to use it. He cannot now go back; he has crossed his Rubicon and must advance into the future armed with the reason and the tools of his sciences, and in so doing will doubtless have to contest the very laws and powers of Nature herself. He has done this already by expanding his numbers far beyond her tolerance and by interrupting her laws of inheritance and survival. Now, he must go all the way, for he cannot but partially contest Nature. He has chosen to lead the way; he must take the responsibility upon himself.

But I digress. What does all this have to do with economic growth? Again, as Winnicott explained, “aggression that is not denied, and for which personal responsibility can be accepted, is available to give strength to the work of reparation and restitution.” However, “[i]n sentimentality there is repressed or unconscious hate, and this repression is unhealthy. Sooner or later the hate turns up.” Indeed, the hate does turn up at the Heartland Institute, where the “Green New Deal” is exposed as the “Old Socialist Despotism.”If it fails to acknowledge the primitive aggression of “man’s triumph over nature” that lies beneath the reparation of adopting environmentally-friendly policies, the debate between degrowth and green growth risks descending into sentimental bickering about the window dressing in the hotel on the edge of the abyss.

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Amazon Wins!!!

(Dan here….better a little late than not…)

by Kenneth Thomas  

Amazon Wins!!!

Well, what did you expect? With 238 entrants and 20 finalists, the Amazon HQ2 location tournament resulted in a resounding victory for Amazon: Billions of dollars in subsidies and binders full of detailed information on the contestants. Plus, we got a surprise twist at the end, when Amazon announced it would choose two “headquarters” instead of one. Of course, I never thought that having two headquarters made economic sense (“Doesn’t that defeat the idea of a headquarters as a central coordinating site?” I asked last year), and the same is even truer when you have three “headquarters.”

Leaving aside how Amazon plans to coordinate three headquarters’ operations, the subsidies boggle the mind and insult our intelligence. Let’s lay out what we know about the subsidies so far, remembering that there are other subsidy elements that are likely to be discovered as things play out. That is what happened with Foxconn, for example: Its subsidies in Wisconsin were originally reported as $3 billion in state subsidies plus local tax increment financing (TIF). By June of this year, Good Jobs First was reporting that further subsidies plus a huge TIF award brought the total to $4.8 billion (Megadeals spreadsheet, June 2018 update; download here). Something is likely to up the total incentives Amazon will receive, above what we know today.

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Janet Yellen “Not Tall Enough”

Janet Yellen “Not Tall Enough”

So said Donald Trump on several occasions in connection with possibly appointing her as Fed Chair, according to an article in today’s Washington Post by Philip Rucker, John Dawsey, and Damian Paletta.  This article, along with several others, mostly covered the 20 minute interview these three had with Trump in the Oval Office.  Most of the news was wxs expected: on MbS still “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t” on his role in the Khashoggi murder; “i don’t see it” regarding evidence of a human role in global warming presented in the recently released climate change report, and California forest fires still due to poor forest management (with Interior Sec under investigation Ryan Zinke weighing in on that one about the importance of good forest management).  No, the top story was about the economy.

So Trump is blaming GM’s impending layoff of 15,000 workers on the Fed raising interest rates, no role for his steel tariffs.  Janet Yellen should probably grateful she is not in the firing line.  It is Jerome (Jay) Powell who is, with Trump declaring “So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay.  Not even a little bit. And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the fed is way off-base with what they are doing.”

Now arguably the Fed is being too vigorous about raising interest rates, and they may well slow down or even halt this if the rumblings of growth slowing become louder.  That said, if Yellen had been reappointed probably we would have seen interest rates this year, if possibly maybe not quite as rapidly as we have seen (or would have with some hawk outsider many Congressional Republicans were pushing like Jon Taylor).  But the Fed is much more of a group operation than many realize, especially given that the Chairs for quite some time have sought more or less consensus decisions, even as they are often scattered dissidents making public noises.  And this consensus has a strong element coming from the staff and their models, wirh all of this building in a lot of momentum.  Once the Fed gets itself into doing something, like deciding on the string of interest rates they have been doing, it is hard to undo that.

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Healthcare and….

Via Naked Capitalism and Lambert Strether:

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. –Corinthians 13:13

I posted this letter in Links, but I found I could expand on it. Spectrum Health Care’s letter to Hedda Martin speaks for itself, and for what our health care system has become under neoliberalism:


View image on Twitter

Dan Radzikowski@DanRadzikowski

(The provenance: I started with AOC, who hat-tipped @DanRiffle, who linked to the original poster, @DanRadzikowski, quoted above. From Radzikowski’s thread, Hedda Martin: “This is me”; Martin’s GoFundMe, which was successful.) In this post, I’ll focus on two things: the intriguing backstory of Spectrum Health, the institution that denied Martin care until she could raise $10,000; and the weaknesses of GoFundMe as a solution. Before I get to the main part of the post, however, I’ll point out that Hedda Martin’s example is not exception…

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Why Free Public Higher Education Is Not a Sop to the Upper Middle Class

Why Free Public Higher Education Is Not a Sop to the Upper Middle Class

Lots of bad op-ed stuff gets published in the New York Times and other mass circulation outlets, so I usually give it a pass, but today’s attack on free higher education by David Leonhardt is about my day job, so I have to make an exception.  He repeats the utterly bs line that, since most college students are from the upper half of the income spectrum, using public funds to pay their way is regressive.

No, no no!

First, why is the college student population so skewed to the higher brackets?  There are many reasons, but the financial burden of attending—not only tuition, but also the opportunity cost of not working—is a big factor.  The problem with free higher ed is that, the way it’s usually framed, it doesn’t go far enough.  As in European countries and elsewhere that take this issue seriously, students should not only get free tuition but a stipend.  We can afford and should demand the same.

Second, what Leonhardt doesn’t mention is the student-worker phenomenon, the crushing workload on college students holding down part time and even full time jobs.  Evergreen State College, where I work, just released the results from its survey of incoming students, and more than half expected to work to support themselves while attending classes, most of them more than 20 hours per week.  I see this reality every day in the classroom, where students struggle with not enough time to keep up with assignments, sometimes even nodding out to recover from a late night shift, or the emails apologizing for being absent because of a work schedule change.

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A Washington State Carbon Tax Goes Down in Flames

A Washington State Carbon Tax Goes Down in Flames

Initiative 1631, which would have created a carbon tax in Washington State, lost by almost 12% of the vote this week.  Commentators on all sides have interpreted this as a decisive defeat for carbon pricing, making more indirect policies like subsidies to renewables the only politically feasible option.*

I don’t have time for a lengthy analysis, but in a few words I want to suggest that this conclusion is premature.  I live in Washington State and saw the battle unfold first hand in real time.  Voters were not asked by opponents of 1631 to reject carbon pricing; on the contrary.  And it was the failure to draft and promote a straight-ahead carbon pricing law that doomed it.

While supporters of 1631 point to money from fossil fuel interests as the “cause” of their defeat, the actual propaganda of the No side did not belittle the threat of climate change, nor did it even argue against the need for action to reduce emissions.  It hammered on these points:

1. 1631 was weak.  It excluded too much of the state’s emissions and wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on them.

2. Nevertheless it would raise energy bills for virtually all the state’s residents.

3. It proposed an undemocratic procedure for allocating carbon revenues.

The money behind this message may be “bad”, but the message itself was correct.  1631 was so poorly conceived that the arguments of the troglodytes were closer to the truth than those of the progressives.  Take them one by one:

1. 1631 was the second carbon tax initiative in two years.  Last year’s effort, I-732, had broader coverage and allowed for higher carbon prices over time.  It was opposed by progressives, who organized to defeat it and then drew up their own, weaker proposal.  There is a lot of detail to go into, but the short version is that 1631’s carbon price was essentially symbolic, a few cents on the carbon dollar.  It was not a meaningful action to deal with the threat of a climate catastrophe.

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Before The Midterms And WaPo Is At It Again

(Dan here…better a bit late than ….)

by Barkley Rosser

Monday Before The Midterms And WaPo Is At It Again

It is Robert J. Samuelson doing his usual schtick, albeit with some recognition of other issues, such as global warming and immigration.  But these are not what has his prime attention on the day before midterm elections in the US.  Moaning that “Everyone” will lose this election, his main focus is on the budget deficit, without a single mention of the Trump tax cuts.

We get, “Start with budget deficits. In fiscal 2018, the gap between federal spending and revenue was $782 billion, nearly 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That’s up $116 billion from 2017. Based on current spending and taxes, the Congressional Budget Office expects large deficits forever.
With a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, no one can attribute these deficits to a weak economy.  Put simply, Americans want more government benefits and services than they’re willing to pay for in taxes…..

Our leaders are making proposals that would worsen deficits. Trump backs more tax cuts [ah ha, that he passed some is implicitly recognized]; Democrats advance expensive new health benefits and guaranteed jobs for all [well, at least he did not call for cutting Social Security, as he usually does].”

OK, this could be worse.  He could have actually called for cuts in “entitlements” as he so often does.  But clearly after not mentioning that the deficit has swelled due overwhelmingly because of Trump’s tax cuts, he implicitly puts forward cutting “government benefits” as at least equal to raising taxes in terms of dealing with budget deficits.  There is no end to it.

Barkley Rosser

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Economists Agree: Democratic Presidents are Better at Making Us Rich. Eight Reasons Why.

by Steve Roth (originally published at Evonomics)

Economists Agree: Democratic Presidents are Better at Making Us Rich. Eight Reasons Why.

In 2013, economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson — no wild-eyed liberals, they — asked a very important question: Why has the U.S. economy performed better under Democratic than Republican presidents, “almost regardless of how one measures performance”?

Start with their “performed better” assertion: it’s uncontestable. While you can easily cherry-pick brief periods and economic measures that show superior economic performance under Republicans, over any lengthy comparison period (say, 25 years more), by pretty much any economic measure, Democrats have outperformed Republicans for a century. Even Tyler Cowen, director of the Koch-brothers-funded libertarian/conservative Mercatus Center, stipulates to that fact without demur.

Here’s just one bald picture of that relative performance, showing a very basic measure, GDP growth:

The difference is big. At those rates, over thirty years your $50,000 income compounds up to $105,000 under Republicans, $182,000 under Democrats — 73% higher. (And this is all before even considering distribution — whether the growing prosperity is widely enjoyed, or narrowly concentrated.)

Hundreds of similar pictures are easily assembled — different time periods, different measures, aggregate and per-capita, inflation-adjusted or not — all telling the same general story. No amount of hand-waving, smoke-blowing, and definition-quibbling will alter that reality. (If you feel you must try to debunk Blinder, Watson, and Cowen: be aware that you almost certainly don’t have an original argument. Read the paper, and follow the footnotes. You’ll also find more hereherehereherehere, and here.)

 

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