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

Real wages decline, but real aggregate wages increase

Monthly consumer inflation rate increases by most in 10 years; real wages decline, but real aggregate wages increase

 – by New Deal democratSeasonally adjusted consumer prices rose 0.6% in March. This was the biggest single month gain since June 2009, coming out of the Great Recession:



Leaving aside the pandemic, since the 1980s recessions have only happened when CPI less energy costs (red) had risen to close to or over 3%/year, usually driven by increases in the price of oil by more than 40% YoY. Even with this month’s spike, YoY inflation ex-energy is only up 1.9%:

Weekly Indicators for April 5 – 9 at Seeking Alpha

 by New Deal democrat

Weekly Indicators for April 5 – 9 at Seeking Alpha

My Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.

The big news continues to be a bifurcation between the currently unfolding Boom, fueled by the fire hose of monetary and fiscal stimulus, and the fallout in the long leading forecast based on the increase in interest rates as a result.

As usual, clicking over and reading will bring you up to the virtual moment on the economic data, and reward me with a penny or two for my efforts.

“…other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting, and more exquisite nature.”

“…other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting, and more exquisite nature.”

A defense of Weber’s Protestant Ethic thesis from the 1940s by Ephraim Fischoff makes the plausible argument that critics — and many supporters — of Weber’s essay attached unwarranted causality to it, as if “Calvinism caused capitalism.” Instead, Fischoff explained:

Weber’s thesis must be construed not according to the usual interpretation, as an effort to trace the causative influence of the Protestant ethic upon the emergence of capitalism, but as an exposition of the rich congruency of such diverse aspects of a culture as religion and economics.

Fair enough. Then along comes Colin Campbell 43 some odd years later talking about the Other Protestant Ethic. It was Campbell’s intention in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism to update Weber and to fill in what he saw as a significant gap in Weber’s thesis — his failure to account for new consumer attitudes, which Campbell traced back to Sentimentalism and Romanticism, both adaptations of Protestantism. 

US Trade Deficit Rises 4.8% in February to Record High

US Trade Deficit Rises 4.8% in February to Record High,” Commenter R.J.S. at Marketwatch 666

Our trade deficit rose 4.8% February, as both our exports and imports decreased, but the value of our exports fell by almost three times as much as the value of our imports did….the Commerce Department report on our international trade in goods and services for February indicated that our seasonally adjusted goods and services trade deficit rose by $3.3 billion to $71.1 billion in February, from a January deficit that was revised down to $67.8 billion from the $68.2 billion deficit reported a month ago…in rounded figures, the value of our February exports fell by $5.0 billion to $187.3 billion on $4.8 billion decrease to $131.1 billion in our exports of goods and a $0.2 billion decrease to $56.1 billion in our exports of services, while our imports fell $1.7 billion to $258.3 billion as a $2.0 billion decrease to $219.1 billion in our imports of goods was partially offset by a $0.3 billion increase to $39.2 billion in our imports of services….export prices averaged 1.6% higher in February, which means our real exports fell more month over month than the nominal decrease by that percentage, while import prices rose 1.3%, meaning that the contraction in real imports was greater than the nominal decrease reported here by that percentage…

The decrease in our February exports of goods resulted from lower exports of capital goods, consumer goods, soybeans, and of automotive vehicles, parts and engines…referencing the Full Release and Tables for February  (pdf), in Exhibit 7 we find that our exports of capital goods fell by $2,451 million to $39,094 million, led by a $738 million decrease in our exports of industrial machines other than those itemized separately, a $459 million decrease in our exports of civilian aircraft, and a $409 million decrease in our exports of semiconductors, and that our exports of consumer goods fell by $937 million to $15,049 million on a $470 million decrease in our exports of gem diamonds; in addition, our exports of foods, feeds and beverages fell by $727 million to $13,166 million on a $889 million decrease in our exports of soybeans, and our exports of automotive vehicles, parts, and engines fell by $703 million to $11,899 million on a $319 million decrease in our exports of parts and accessories of vehicles other than tires, engines and chassis and a $280 million decrease in our exports of new and used passenger cars, while our exports in other goods not categorized by end use fell by $372 million to $4,968 million . . . partially offsetting the decreases in those end use categories, our exports of industrial supplies and materials rose by $352 million to $46,448 million as a $2,399 million increase in our exports of natural gas and a $503 million increase in our exports of non-monetary gold were partly offset by a $824 million decrease in our exports of crude oil, a $326 million decrease in our exports of plastic materials, and a $300 million decrease in our exports of natural gas liquids…

Jobless claims: progress pauses, as a new surge in COVID in Michigan and the Northeast causes concern

Jobless claims: progress pauses, as a new surge in COVID in Michigan and the Northeast causes concern

New jobless claims are likely to the most important weekly economic data for the next 3 to 6 months. As the number of those vaccinated continues to increase, I expect a big increase in renewed consumer and social activities, with a concomitant gain in monthly employment gains – as we saw in the March jobs report last week.Three weeks ago I set a few objective targets: I am looking for new claims to be under 500,000 by Memorial Day, and below 400,000 by Labor Day. This week didn’t help us, although it is more of a pause than a significant increase.


On a unadjusted basis, new jobless claims rose by 18,172 to 740,787. Seasonally adjusted claims rose by 16,000 to 744,000. The 4 week average of claims also rose by 2,000 from last week’s pandemic low of 721,250 to 723,250. 

Here is the close up since last August (recall that these numbers were in the range of 5 to 7 million at their worst in early April):

With a Booming economy comes at least transitory inflation

With a Booming economy comes at least transitory inflation: March producer prices

One of the economic subjects you are going to hear a lot about this year is inflation. We are recovering from a sharp if brief recession, and with the dual firehoses of fiscal and monetary stimulus, entering a Boom such as we have probably not seen in over 50 years.


Unsurprisingly supplies of commodities and goods that had been cut back during the recession are going to be stretched thin and much competed for now, generating at least a brief burst of inflation.


With that background noted, this morning producer prices for March were reported up 1.3% for that month alone. YoY producer prices are up 6.0% (blue in the graphs below):

Pandemic still in control

February JOLTS report showed a pandemic still in control

Yesterday morning’s JOLTS report for February showed that the pandemic was still in control of the numbers.
This report has only a 20 year history, and so includes only two prior recoveries. In those recoveries: 

  • first, layoffs declined
  • second, hiring rose
  • third, job openings rose and voluntary quits increased, close to simultaneously

The recovery from the worst of the pandemic almost one year ago at first followed this script, but the winter surge, which led to a few month of flat, or worse, jobs reports, disrupted that trend.


Layoffs have followed the above script, reverting to normal levels back in last May, and continuing at those levels since:

Good Signs On Renewing US-Iran JCPOA Nuclear Deal

Good Signs On Renewing US-Iran JCPOA Nuclear Deal

 One should probably not get too optimistic yet, although I have been getting quite worried about it, but a report in today;s New York Times seems to indicate that via the rather indirect negotiations going on in Vienna the US and Iran may have worked out a mutually acceptable path of actions that will lead to both nations getting back into compliance with the JCPOA, which the US pulled out of for no good reason in 2018 due to former President Trump.  President Biden has said he intended to get back into the deal, and after a bunch of delays, it looks like it might actually be happening before the forthcoming Iranian presidentrial election in June, thought likely to lead to the replacement of current Iran President Rouhani, who negotiated the original deal in 2015, with somebody likely to take a harder line. So, about time.

Barkley Rosser

The Hippie Dog Whistle Work Ethic Silent-Majority Counter-Offensive

The Hippie Dog Whistle Work Ethic Silent-Majority Counter-Offensive

Following up on my last post, I was searching for coverage of Ronald Reagan’s infamous “strapping young buck” comment from 1976 and found this wonderful commentary by Ian Haney López on Bill Moyers’s show.

In his book, Dog Whistle Politics, López mentions the “work ethic” angle several times.

The narratives promoted alike by the ethnic turn and racial-demagogues—a lack of work ethic, a preference for welfare, a propensity toward crime, or their opposites— reinvigorated racial stereotypes, giving them renewed life in explaining why minorities lagged behind whites…. they became the staples of political discourse, repeated ad nauseam by politicians, think tanks, and media.

 …

In accord with the stories spun by dog whistle politicians, many whites have come to believe that they prosper because they possess the values, orientations, and work ethic needed by the self-making individual in a capitalist society. In contrast, they have come to suppose that nonwhites, lacking these attributes, slip to the bottom, handicapped by their inferior cultures and pushed down by the market’s invisible hand, where they remain, beyond the responsibility, or even ability, of government to help. 

Many older whites nostalgically pine for the days when a solid work ethic meant a good job, a decent home, a new car every few years, an affordable college education for the kids, and a nice vacation by the lake or seashore every August.

Dog whistle politics (as opposed to overt racist rhetoric) got its start with George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign. Wallace addressed his speeches to the proverbial hard-working, tax-paying, church-going, law-abiding, gun-toting patriotic citizen:

How To Estimate “Rational” Market Expectations Of Future Inflation

How To Estimate “Rational” Market Expectations Of Future Inflation

 I am not a fan of rational expectations, hence the quotation marks around “rational” in the subject head here.  Nevertheless I have become aware thanks to some posts at Econbrowser by the intrepid Menzie Chinn that the usual way this has been measured and reported by most people needs to be modified, with the understanding of this only developing quite recently.  This came from a paper in 2018 by some Fed Board of Governors economists: S. D’Amico, D.H. Kim, and M. Wei, (although Menzie refers to it as the “DKKW model”), “Tips from TIPS: The Informational Content of Treasury Inflation-Protected Inflation Securities,” Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, 2018, 53(1), 395-436. 

For a given time-horizon, it has been conventional for those estimating such a “rational” market forecast of expected inflation to take the appropriate Treasury security nominal yield of that time horizon (say 5 years) and simply subtract from it the yield on the same time horizon TIPS, which covers security holders for inflation.  So it has long looked like this difference is a pretty good estimate of this market expectation of inflation, given that TIPS covers for it while the same time horizon Treasury security does not.