Showing posts with label Economics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Economics. Show all posts

Monday, January 5, 2015

Another Billionaire Hypocrite

The people running things don't seem to have any idea how economics work. The media should ignore the pronouncements of such people in the future. They won't, but they should call David Siegel on his bullshit the next time he threatens to fire a lot of his workers because they don't want to vote for Mitt Romney.

One thing I can guarantee you about American politics--anyone who has money has a voice that the poor will never have.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mocking the Megawealthy

The brutal application of satire has long held a place of warmth in my heart. Great satire eliminates the lines of defense that keep the clueless from being held accountable. Paul Krugman embraces the Krugmanization of a billionaire who can't see past the Hamptons.

Now, it's true, if you're a billionaire who's interested in decorating your high-end real estate with high-end art, then, yes, your personal inflation rate is higher than others. But tough luck. (I'm pretty sure you'll manage). The Fed, you see, isn't worried about the Billionaire Price Index. It's worried about inflation on goods and services we all face. And that, despite zero interest rates, is still below the Fed's 2 percent target. That's not going to change anytime soon, either. Indeed, just because the super-rich are bidding up the prices of houses in the Hamptons doesn't mean that middle-class people, whose wages are flat, are going to bid up the price of, well, anything.

This reminds me of the brutal Soviet architecture of the 20th Century.

It defies satire because it is so massive and thick and impervious to everything, except of course raindrops, which destroys the cheap concrete and renders the whole thing ludicrous. You'd have to be willfully indifferent to facts, evidence, and common sense to see things that aren't there, like functionality or beauty.

People like Singer are enamored with their own brilliance and impervious to slights or criticism. As a monument to capitalism, he looks a lot like the building above.

Thanks, Obama

If the jobless rate has hit a six year low, and if Obama has been President for six years, then all of this is his fault. The voters just punished a sitting President for successfully creating jobs and ending unemployment for millions of Americans during his presidency.

Remember when nobody had a job and nobody had any money and the world economy was in freefall and everything was broke and stuff?

Me, neither. Thanks for nothing, Obama.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Student of the Game

Attendance at college football games is declining rapidly in this country. It may have something to do with the fact that college football programs are in decline as well:
Despite the ready availability of tickets at University of Michigan's “The Big House”—the largest college football stadium with the capacity to hold 109,901 Wolverine fans—sales have dropped precipitously in their student section. In 2013, the Michigan student section had about 19,000. This season, that number is somewhere between 13,000 and 14,000. In response to declining student attendance, athletic director Dave Brandon announced a decrease in student season ticket prices by 37.5 percent for next year.
That was published today. Michigan football is in the toilet--the team sucks, Dave Brandon is already history, and kids are paying way too much for an education that won't get them decent jobs.

When you have student loan debt through the roof, nobody is going to reach deep in their pocket and give to an alumni association. That's because they're broke paying back loans.

The "duh" factor in this story is incredible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gas Prices Plummet

I can still remember Election Day, 2008.

In our little corner of Maryland, I went to the polling place and voted. Some jackass was driving around in the parking lot, obstructing people from voting, and he was campaigning from his car window in violation of the law. On his bumper were two stickers:

Get Ready for $5.00 gal/gas If Obama Wins

Still waiting, asshole. Still waiting.

One of the traditional measures of how a President was doing was centered around the price of a gallon of gas. Nothing affects working people more than what they pay at the pump. You can't just "cut down" on the amount of gas you buy because people use it to get to where they have to be. As in, work, school, and to the store. Nobody buys gas they don't need. And so the impact on our economy is felt when the cost of gas is high because you HAVE to buy gas--you cut back on extras after you buy the gas you have to have. That's what drives down our consumer consumption.

This President can't even campaign for other Democrats because things are so toxic, and there is no shortage of those who believe he has been a tyrant/apologist/sellout/failure. None of those people remember the days when President Bush was clueless about why our endless wars in the Middle East were causing massive disruptions in the oil supply. The same people who apologized for Bush are deranged about Obama, and vice versa.

The best case for voting for Democrats? Cheap gas, baby. Enjoy it while you can.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Unemployment is Now 6.1% Because of the Worst President Ever

Despite a long, proud history of doing whatever it can to tank the American economy--government shutdown anyone? forty attempts at repealing Obamacare and no jobs bills anyone?--the Republican Party woke up to bad new today.

Unemployment has fallen to 6.1% in the United States. This is devastating news for the people who hate America.

The worst President ever, in the history of everything forever, just won the morning.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Look What Happens When You Ruin the Economy

We have not recovered from the financial crisis of the late 2000s because nobody has any money:

U.S. fertility is not recovering from the financial crisis — and demographers aren’t sure why.

The fertility rate fell to a record low 62.9 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2013, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The total number of births, at 3.96 million, inched up by a mere 4,000 from 2012, the first increase since the financial crisis. But the total fertility rate, or TFR, the average number of children a woman would have during her child-bearing years, fell to just 1.86, the lowest rate in 27 years. TFR is considered the best metric of fertility. A TFR of 2.1 represents a stable population, with children replacing parents as they die off.

Demographers expected the fertility rate to fall during recession, as financially strapped families put off childbearing. But what has surprised some demographers is both the depth of the decline and the fact that fertility has continued to drop even over the course of the country's five years of slow but steady recovery. The rate has fallen steadily each year since 2007, when it stood at 2.1 percent.

Wages have not kept up with this soft "recovery" and we still have far too many people who are unemployed. Couple that with the fact that your average job is rapidly becoming a two year temp-to-hire position paying less than what you made before and you have the recipe for a sharp demographic shift. Women would have more children if this were a more secure economy, and it isn't secure enough right now.

The very same people terrified of a foreign invasion of anchor babies have perpetrated this situation by ruining the economy, confiscating the wealth and assets of the Middle Class, and paying CEOs ridiculous amounts of money. Thomas Piketty scared the crap out of them because he was right--we have far too much inequality in America.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pessimism Rules in America

This is an interesting look at how pessimistic people have become in the United States. Despite having everything, Americans are still a miserable lot. Despite an extremely high standard of living, it's all going to hell in a handbasket.

I think the transformation of companies into temp agencies is helping this along. When no one has stable work, the country isn't stable at all and very few risks are taken. Fewer people buy new cars and homes, more people hoard and hunker down. This is not conducive to growing an economy.

That, and everything is Obama's fault.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

James Poulos Does Not Understand the Danger of Inequality

The glib libertarianism of James Poulos is on display today:

So far, so good. But then Hacker and Pierson go off the rails: “another Frenchman with a panoramic vista—and far more precise evidence—wants us to think anew about the progress of equality and democracy. Though an heir to Tocqueville’s tradition of analytic history, Thomas Piketty has a message that could not be more different: Unless we act, inequality will grow much worse, eventually making a mockery of our democratic institutions.” 

The apparent ignorance behind this thesis is so extreme that it causes Hacker and Pierson to see Piketty as the real genius—while even an undergraduate level of engagement withDemocracy in America would reveal, in virtually every chapter, that Piketty is not only wrong but glibly and perilously so.

Poulos is out of his depth, but you already knew that. Praise for Piketty's work is being heard far and wide.

Of course, there's no proof that Piketty is wrong, just snide bullshit operating as rhetoric. It reads better when you can ignore every single indicator that we are entering a new Gilded Age and come up with a jarring bit of Slate-inspired contrarianism. Or something like that. It's as if Poulos hasn't been told that corporations are people and that a billionaire can buy anyone or anything he wants, especially the United States Senate or the governor of Wisconsin.

Poulos, you see, is operating under the impression that it is 1994 and not 2014. We are in the midst of a new Gilded Age, and it's worse than the last one because, well, there is no organized labor movement anymore and political corruption is seen as a character building exercise in getting away with it rather than the shameful, money-grubbing excess it used to be.

You can follow the link and see the other four reasons yourself. I think the fifth one is good enough. What you are paid is indicative of what you own; the ever-increasing gap between now and the time of Alexis de Tocqueville is readily apparent--the equality of early America, where men owned their land because the government gave it to them for improvement has been replaced by a world of renters and urban dwellers. It's one thing to have a nation of yeomen farmers who are building the agricultural infrastructure of early America; it's another to have apartment blocks full of people paying Too Damn High of rent.

This is why I think the comparison to what Piketty is saying to de Tocqueville is not relevant. The transition of America from an agricultural power to a manufacturing power and now to a debt-repackaging power took place while the upper and bottom rungs of society struggled for control over who controlled the government and how it was wielded. Ronald Reagan was the verdict on this struggle, and the American labor movement was destroyed and the power of the CEO was established as a national birthright for the lucky few. A hundred years ago, you could mock the rich and powerful openly and with great gusto (see Finley Peter Dunne, et al). Now, you have inflamed butthurt feelings whenever someone makes a rich man sad by writing down what he actually said in public on purpose.

Poulos is dead wrong if he thinks that American democracy somehow has a remedy for all of this--it does not. It has not prevented this development and now, thanks to the ability of the wealthy to use money as speech, it is now much less likely that politicians will bite the hand that feeds them and cut off the main source of their power, which is not the votes of the populace but the money that allows them to manipulate voters into believing they are living in an actual democracy.

Income inequality is the disaster on the horizon. When the wealthy have everything, society falls into revolution and "distributes" the wealth. Tocqueville, knowing the causes of the French Revolution, would more clearly see this issue and the dangers of concentrating wealth in the hands of a small elite empowered with the permission of the law to buy their power without fear of legal consequences.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Dignity of Honest Labor

This is one of the most important op-ed pieces of the year so far:

Americans are mostly disconnected from the labor movement — only 6.7 percent of private sector workers are part of a union — and that means we’ve become disconnected from the idea of solidarity. Instead, we have an ill-defined feeling that we should do something for those worse off than ourselves, something that often turns into a pity-charity complex. Rebuilding the social safety net is a good start, but something more powerful would be a real understanding that we’re all in this together.

I heard that understanding in the voice of Alex Shalom, another low-wage worker who stood up for himself and his co-workers against his boss — this time, his boss at Bank of America. “I think people need to know that tellers are just cashiers with ties on,” Shalom told me, placing himself squarely in the same movement as McDonald’s and Wal-Mart workers. The perceived class difference between a bank worker in a suit and a fast-food worker in a logo baseball cap evaporates when the rent comes due, and many of us know what it’s like to do the math of monthly bills and find you’re coming up short.

We need a movement that makes us feel strong — all of us, whether we work at Burger King or Bank of America or an automobile plant or in journalism. That means not just focusing on the poverty but also the power in the voices of a group of workers on the street outside the Wendy’s where one of their colleagues was just fired for organizing. It means giving those workers and their strikes the credit for the wins when they do come. Too often, people derive something that feels like strength from remembering that someone else has it worse. But that’s temporary, and real strength comes from all of us being strong together.

Any movement which empowers working Americans to attack the bullshit used to marginalize their lives is going to have to overcome the need to remain isolated in communities designed to prevent people from gathering to talk about their issues. I would love to see a movement that used America's churches, but nobody goes to church anymore, except for maybe older Americans who have left the workforce. Could a chat room on a video game platform serve as the meeting hall of this century? How do you get people from a broad range of backgrounds in one place together so that they can see, with their own eyes, that the bank employee and the brick layer and the shelf stocker have a lot more in common than they realize?

Well, you need a world war to do that, as awful as that sounds. You need a draft, a conscription, and you need millions in uniform, held in place by necessity and warehoused like cattle so that they can rub up against, literally and figuratively, their own kind from all over. The thing that helped build this country was a pair of world wars that brought disparate members of American society together in one place for an extended period of time. They had to learn to get along. The kid from Ohio had to learn to get along with the kid from Montana and the kid from Florida. They had to live under one roof and figure out what it was that they had in common.

Works Progress Administration projects were attacked, endlessly, along with all of the other New Deal initiatives. They weren't all individually successful but they did bring dignity to labor. From that effort to destroy the New Deal was born Reaganism and a hatred for government which survives as practically the only idea the Republican Party has had, other than war, for twenty years.To these people, the only sacrifice necessary should come from the poor. It used to be, sacrifice was shared across the American political spectrum, especially during the Progressive Era and in the aftermath of the trust-smashing years. Once the robber barons were done, Americans shared in the misery of the Depression.

Their collective shared sacrifice helped the labor movement immensely. As an example, by the time he was 25 years old, my grandfather had worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which sent him up and down the State of Minnesota to work in different camps. He had been in the Army, and sent from basic training to Hawaii, and then to the South Pacific for months of war. When he was sent home, he enlisted in the army a second time and went to Europe. He had, with virtually no education, developed a worldliness that is difficult for us to imagine, all of it in the service of the country. No wonder he became dedicated to organized labor and the protection of Social Security benefits while never hating anyone who had more or less than he did. And, while always poor financially, he was connected to the idea that he had common cause with people who worked for a living.

When the wealthy in this country managed to destroy those connections in the 1980s, he was rolled over like everybody else who had organized unions in this country. He was cheated, by an early death, out of the benefits he had fought for. If he had lived, those benefits would have been drained away by now.

The issues faced by the poor are inherently American ones, and they deserve to be heard. That could be you, working hard like the folks you've spent your whole live looking down upon, and the way things are going, you'll know it before everyone else does. You'll know when you are one of them but you won't know what to do because they have conditioned everyone that any agitation against the wealthy class in this country is worse than anything imaginable. That's what is radically different today from the forty year period after the end of World War II. You dare not criticize the rich, and you better stay home and disorganized.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Said a Young Man Ain't Got Nothin' in the World These Days

I think that this article from The Atlantic hits the nail on the head--we have to deal with a rise in the population of young males or instability could be commonplace. Think of what would happen if a bunch of young men voted for the economic self-interest and threw a few Republican senators out of office--the country would collapse.

Much of what causes turmoil in countries like Pakistan, Egypt, and India stems in large part from the fact that it is prohibitively expensive for a young man to marry and thus, many of them become obsessed or socially confused and engage in criminal activity. Women have a civilizing effect on the male population and no where is that more true than in places where the civilizing effect is being missed because everyone is poor and can't afford anything.

A great way to temper this and spread stability would be to engage in trade and commerce and attempt to lift the standard of living of poor young males. This would be like paying them to stay calm and it would be money well spent. I think it would be a mistake to ignore the impact of culture and religion, but there are some things that could be helped by applying commonsense economics.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lord George Robertson Forgets About the History of Scotland

This is crazy talk:

The global balance would be substantially upset should one of the West’s key unions, and its second-biggest defense power, split up. The United Kingdom has always punched above its weight diplomatically and militarily. A breakup would have a serious effect on its role in the world — all the more so because Britain’s nuclear-deterrent base is in Scotland, and those advocating separation have pledged to expel it. With the United States and other countries viewing a possible British withdrawal from the European Union as negative, how much more disturbing would they find a breakup of the country itself? 

The ripple effects would not be limited to the United Kingdom. Other separatist movements in Europe are watching the Scottish debate with undisguised interest. In Spain, more than a million Catalans have turned out in the streets calling for independence. In the Basque Country, separatist violence has waned, but the desire for a separate state remains. In Belgium, whose unity hangs on a thread, Flemish nationalists have made it clear that if Scotland has a free pass to the European Union and NATO, they would be next in line. There could be more breakaways to come.

This is self-determination writ large across the face of Europe. Blaming the Scots for this is ridiculous--the separatist movements of Europe have been simmering for hundreds of years because these problems were created by the scheming of kings and diplomats hundreds of years ago. Blame Napoleon for it all if you want (and try to imagine a British victory with Scottish cannon fodder at Waterloo), but England's problem with Scotland rests firmly with the force used on the people to subjugate them and confiscate their lands and bifurcate them from themselves to create insecurity and inferiority.

Was it the end of the world when Ireland became an independent country? Did it bring down the Empire? No, the self-determination of millions did that (plus a war that revealed that Britain couldn't hold on to everything forever). Should they send the Navy? Does Mr. Cameron plan on building a fleet to keep Scotland in check? I'd love to see that.

The Scots want to control the North Sea oil revenues. That's it. They are going to hide behind all of the other issues in order to make it plain that they want that money. If the English government figures out how to share that revenue, there won't be an independence day for the Scots. How hard is that to figure out?

Lord Robertson ignores the painful history and glosses over the violence with which the Scots were made British:

The ties that bind the United Kingdom are strong, but there would be profound international implications should the Scottish people choose secession. The residual United Kingdom would still be a major player in the world, but upon losing a third of its land mass, 5 million of its population and a huge amount of credibility, its global standing would inevitably diminish.

The ties that bind the two entities were forced on the Scots and covered in blood. The victor always forgets the pain of the vanquished. But are there enough people who care? Are there going to be enough votes to risk the social safety net and the world's oil market fluctuations in order to carry this through? What a people feel and what they will actually vote for are two separate things. It would take a suspension of pragmatism to motivate a vote for independence. But the sad reality eludes the traditionalists. The United Kingdom isn't a player in anything anymore. Good God, man. Save yourself and try to be the better tourist destination. Your people can't make anything except repackaged debt and the occasional Eurovision winner. Get over yourself.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Slumlords and Urban Blight

There was a time when shaming people actually meant something:

“Most people just assumed that for somebody to go into some of the neighborhoods I spend a lot of time in, that I would be this large, burly, tough sort of man,” says Carol Ott. “Well, no, I’m just a 45-year-old mother of two who thinks that our city deserves a little bit better.” 

Ott is the person behind Baltimore Slumlord Watch, a website dedicated to documenting every abandoned property in Baltimore. She’s also the director of a new organization called Housing Policy Watch, which means that thinking about blight is Ott’s full-time job.

More here:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ukraine Turns to the West

There are a number of things happening in Eastern Europe right now. Ukraine is trying to align itself with the euro countries and turn its back on Russia, which is a smart thing for economic reasons but a dangerous thing for political reasons. There is no desire to see Russia become "Russia" again and no one much likes to live under Putin's heel.

Russia needs Ukraine as a cheap and friendly conduit for energy products. The more favorable the Ukrainians are, the cheaper it is for Russia to export critical things like natural gas to Europe. The problem is, Ukrainians hate their combined history with Russia and politicians who downplay such things run the risk of being consumed by the corruption that Russia is using to buy favors.

My first reaction to this was, why is there still a statue of Lenin in Kiev?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Get Back to Work

Just once, I'd like to see us add a half a million jobs to this economy for three or four straight months:

U.S. employers hired more workers than expected in November and the jobless rate hit a five-year low of 7.0 percent, raising chances the Federal Reserve could start ratcheting back its bond-buying stimulus as soon as this month. 

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 203,000 new jobs last month, following a similarly robust rise in October, the Labor Department said on Friday. The report, which showed broad gains in employment and a rise in hourly earnings, suggested strength in the economy heading into year-end. 

"It will add further confidence to the Fed of a reduced need for monetary stimulus in the U.S. economy. We now see the bias shifting in favor of a January tapering announcement," said Millan Mulraine, senior economist at TD Securities in New York.

The unemployment rate dropped three tenths of a percentage point to its lowest level since November 2008 as some federal employees who were counted as jobless in October returned to work after a 16-day partial shutdown of the government.

We need a hiring boom in this country. We need to get people back to work. Even though unemployment is at 7%, that's still awful for too many people.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Staying on the Bank's Books Forever

The advantages of wealth keep piling up.

We would like things to be fair, I suppose, but things being fair would immediately come under the heading of socialism! or worse. But when things are fair, consumers tend to have a little more confidence, I would imagine, since the inherently rigged financial system doesn't seem to be inspiring anyone anymore.

This is evidence that the game is rigged and that it is becoming institutionalized favoritism and that it is being rigged at a higher and higher level. Once you have eliminated the possibility that the wealthy can't help but get more favors and better rates than everyone else, the stratification of society is complete and there's no reason for someone willing to work and improve a property will try to get a mortgage. What incentive is there? Unless you're at a certain level, you're going to pay a higher rate and that will cut into your already razor-thin property margin.

I used to be down on the idea of "flipping" houses until I started watching some of what happens on channels like HGTV. Instead of being entirely a cutthroat operation, you see houses that are rehabilitated, brought back up to code, and sold for an honest profit after some investment and hard work has been done--nothing wrong with that. And I know it is difficult to signal a trend based on reality television programming, but the end result of a flipped house that sells for more than what it was sold is supposed to be a family living in a decent house.

When a family lives in a renovated home, it can save a neighborhood. It can lift the values of properties all around it. That's positive economic activity that should not be thwarted or discouraged by the unfair rate tiers given to the super wealthy who are simply trading in misery and ruin. I don't believe they are taking the time to invest in and flip houses. I think they're trading in assets that they can use to build a new and fancier version of the "big shitpile" made famous by Atrios.

Friday, November 8, 2013

People Just Don't Get It

Despite all of the obstacles and all of the obstructionism, this President keeps creating jobs and the country keeps moving forward. We are living through a time where no one tells the truth about what is really happening and the rhetoric of the day does not match the facts of what keeps happening. We are better off than we realize, and we will never hear that spoken aloud.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Right Priorities

This is the sort of thing that I wish Bill Gates had said back when his wealth and influence were on the rise. He could have led a different sort of company and he could have made a difference in the world long before being rich and "responsible" were in vogue.

When you have retired or given up making more money, turning to philanthropy is admirable but it comes long after the efforts to make the PC indispensable have passed.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

You Are Paying For This

Every individual who receives a Federal benefit puts strain on the system. It's no where near as broken as people claim to be--it's actually very efficient and relatively free of fraud and misuse. But taxpayers should not have to subsidize anyone who works 40 hours a week and plays by the rules. The people who work at McDonald's and do the right thing are being encouraged to sign up for food stamps. Which is a common sense thing because we wouldn't want anyone working in the restaurant industry to starve to death so that their employer can reap obscene profits.

A 40 hour a week job should pay a living wage, period. End of story.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Janet Yellen Needs to Focus on Jobs

This may elicit a deservedly snide 'duh,' but Janet Yellen has to focus on employment issues and see what the Federal Reserve can do to alleviate the stress that joblessness is placing on the economy. I don't know if this had anything to do with picking her over Larry Summers and whether or not she can actually do something about jobs.

It would be enormously helpful if the American people would stop electing Republican Tea Party extremists.Republican obstructionists are supporting efforts to keep people out of work. They really are rooting for America to fail, and they are doing so with deeds not just words.

This President is, apparently, not entitled to a cabinet of people of his own choosing. The Atlantic believes that Yellen will have a tough time getting confirmed. There isn't anyone out there who would sail through the Senate, up to and including whoever was chosen by the Tea Party. Yeah, there's a Ron Paul joke in there, but it is too sad to contemplate.