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Art Laffer is Not an Economist

Art Laffer is Not an Economist

 Can The Hill be more wrong?

President Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to economist Arthur Laffer, the White House announced Friday. The president will honor Laffer on June 19 for his contributions to economic policy. The White House described Laffer as “one of the most influential economists in American history” in announcing the award.

OK the Idiot-in-Chief did say that but repeat after me – Art Laffer is not an economist. Why did Trump debase the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the entire economics profession?

Laffer co-wrote a book published last year titled “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.” His co-author was Stephen Moore, who earlier this year was nominated to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors but withdrew amid bipartisan opposition from senators.

Well at least The Hill got this right. But this?

Laffer championed supply-side economics and gained prominence serving as a top adviser to then-President Reagan. He established what is known as the “Laffer Curve,” which showed that increases in tax rates will eventually cause government revenue to decrease at a certain point. The model has been cited to argue for the benefits of tax cuts. Critics of supply-side economics argue that it has contributed to inequality and disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

The inequality critique is not the only issue with tax cuts that reduce national savings. Couldn’t The Hill note that the 1981 tax cut lowered investment via higher real interest rates as well as appreciated the dollar leading to large trade deficits? Enough with this weak account as Slate got this right!

Trump Gives World’s Worst Economist the Presidential Medal of Freedom

A better read and if you are going to dub Laffer as an economist please note he is a very poor economist. But at least he lavished Trump with praise.

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Weekly Indicators for May 27 – 31 at Seeking Alpha

by New Deal democrat

Weekly Indicators for May 27 – 31 at Seeking Alpha

My Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.

There was a touch of weakening across several timeframes. The economy is just weak enough that continuing trade and tariff tantrums could take a slowdown and do enough damage to make it a downturn.

As usual, clicking over and reading should be informative for you, and helps me just a little bit for the effort I put into the work.

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Q1 corporate profits and real gross domestic income

Q1 corporate profits and real gross domestic income

Yesterday the second estimate of Q1 GDP came out, which means that corporate profits for Q1 were finally reported.

In my post earlier this week at Seeking Alpha, I wrote that corporate profits are of higher forecasting importance because of the contradiction in the signals being sent by the bond market vs. the housing market. So what light do they shed on the forecast for the next 12 months?

I wrote a follow-up post, and it is up on Seeking Alpha.  As usual, clicking over and reading should be informative for you, and helps to the tune of a couple of pennies for me.

P.S.: As a bonus, another important Q1 metric, gross domestic income, was also reported in yesterday’s revision. There is some evidence that, when they diverge, GDI leads GDP. Here’s what that relationship looks like for the past 30 years:

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Trump’s Latest Mexican Tariff Tirade Irks Senator Grassley

Trump’s Latest Mexican Tariff Tirade Irks Senator Grassley

Senator Grassley rebukes the latest idiocy from the White House:

President Trump dropped a trade war bomb on Thursday when he announced his intent to put in place new and harsh tariffs on goods from Mexico until the “illegal Immigration problem is remedied.” And among the many worried, negative reactions was one from Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, in a strongly worded statement. “Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent,” the statement begins. “Following through on this threat would seriously jeopardize passage USMCA, a central campaign pledge of President Trump’s and what could be a big victory for the country.” Putting this in the context of harming Trump’s own signature USMCA (the replacement for NAFTA) is a smart frame, an effort to show that the tariffs are in conflict with the administration’s own trade goals.

First Tramp thinks NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever but NAFTA 1.1 is beautiful. But now Trump wants to start a new trade war with Mexico because he did not get his racist wall? OK! Of course Trump is not the only one with a twitter account and Paul Krugman has joined Senator Grassley with lines like:

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A Decision Theory Case to Chew On

A Decision Theory Case to Chew On

Here’s something I posted over on Andrew Gelman’s wonderful blog:

I read Alive and thought it unknowingly made a very powerful point about decision theory, that you always have to balance the risks of action against the risks of inaction. The plane was stuck in snow on a slope that led down to a valley that was partially inhabited. Yes, the immediate survivors could not see this, and sending a party down the slope seemed very dangerous (which it was), so they delayed for months. Meanwhile, without thinking explicitly about it, they accepted the risks of staying put, which included the obvious one of an avalanche (how can you not know this about snowy mountain slopes?), which in fact transpired, killing a large fraction of those who had survived the initial crash. In retrospect, once it was obvious they would not be rescued by being spotted from the air, they should have sent a party down to the valley, and it is probable many lives would have been saved. The whole cannibalism thing is a distraction, IMO.

As for the munchy business, I once knew someone who, when giving his name at a restaurant, said “Donner” so he could hear them call out “Donner party of four!”

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Resolving the contradiction between the yield curve and housing

by New Deal democrat

Resolving the contradiction between the yield curve and housing

If you listen to the yield curve, it is screaming “recession!”  If you listen to new home sales, they are saying “no worries!”  One of them is wrong.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been going back over history in an effort to resolve the contradictory signals. One important portion of that work has been to focus on the non-financial leading indicators, and in particular, balancing the consumer stress indirectly measured by housing permits vs. the producer stress measured by corporate profits.

The outcome of  factoring corporate profits into the mix is telling. This work is up at Seeking Alpha. As usual, clicking over and reading helps reward me with a little $$$ for my efforts.

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Will China Play The Rare Earth Card In The Trade War?

Will China Play The Rare Earth Card In The Trade War?

The rumor that China might play its “rare earth card” was the rumor today that helped push down both stock and oil markets according to a variety of reports.  The trigger for this seems to have been a visit on May 26 by China’s president, Xi  Jinping, to a rare earth facility, along with some rumbling statements associated with that visit.  They may not do it, but the possibility of blocking exports to the US of exports of rare earth metals shows that China has potential weapons if Trump follows through with more vigorous trade barriers.  How serious is this threat?

It is probably not as serious as it might  have been a decade ago.  In 1990 a solid majority of these critical elements were produced outside  of China, with the US being a major source, particularly California.  But production here and in some other nations such as Australia was reduced substantially as mining of many of these involves substantial environmental damage.  At the same time China entered the opening and expanded production, getting to be the source of about 90 percent of all production by 2010.  However, due to events then increased efforts to increase production of them elsewhere, especially Malaysia, Australia, and South Africa, has reduced this to 70 percent.

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Trucking tops ailing rail (nerdy)

Trucking tops ailing rail (nerdy)

Since the beginning of this year, weekly rail volumes have usually been negative.  The full year to date volumes have also been negative YoY:

Since all manufactured goods have to be transported to market, if this is something confirmed in other transportation readings, it would clearly be recessionary – as in, a recession has already started.

One alternative measure of the transportation sector is the Cass Freight Index.

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Conservative Economists Discover the Baumol Cost Disease

Conservative Economists Discover the Baumol Cost Disease

A little over a year ago Mark Perry wrote this nonsense:

The chart above (thanks to Olivier Ballou) is an update of a chart we produced last year about this time, and shows the percent changes since January 1997 in the prices of selected consumer goods and services, along with the increase in average hourly earnings in this version … Blue lines = prices subject to free market forces. Red lines = prices subject to regulatory capture by government. Food and drink is debatable either way. Conclusion: remind me why socialism is so great again.

To which I reminded him of the Baumol cost disease and followed up with this. It is good to see that Alex Tabarrok has been thinking about this issue as has John Cochrane. Read their posts as there is a lot of great discussion but permit me to cite just this:

I assumed that regulation, bloat and bureaucracy, monopoly power and the Baumol effect would each explain some of what is going on. After looking at this in depth, however, my conclusion is that it’s almost all Baumol effect.

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