Employment laggard: the public sector

Paul Krugman notes that public sector employment has declined under Obama—a sharp contrast with his two predecessors, under whom it grew (with Republican Bush ahead of Democrat Clinton). How does recent experience stack up on a longer view? Very unusually. Graphed below is the behavior of employment—total, private, and public—around business cycle troughs and recoveries. The darker lines are the averages of all the cycles since the end of World War II; the lighter lines, the most recent period, around the June 2009 trough. (Click on the graph for the full-sized version.) As… Read More

The Nation moves money, again

Forgive me if I’m looking obsessed, but someone has to do it. The Nation was out with an email blast this morning touting its branded affinity VISA card issued by UMB Bank in Kansas City. The magazine’s associate publisher, Peggy Randall, helpfully identifies UMB as “a small, regional bank recommended by the Move Your Money project, a project we  support,” and therefore in accordance with the goals of the Occupy movement. So who is UMB Bank, really? It’s yet another iteration of the classic Money Mover’s institution: flush with more money than it can invest locally,… Read More

Credit union switch fizzles

Last fall, there was a lot of buzz about moving money out of banks and into credit unions. Grand claims were made about results. I had my doubts—politically (see here) and financially (see here). One can disagree with me on the politics, but it turns out that not much money was moved. The Federal Reserve is out with its flow of funds accounts for the fourth quarter. These are a detailed accounting of assets, liabilities, and money flows throughout the U.S. financial system. And before anyone says that the Fed is lying to defend its… Read More

New data on student debt from the NY Fed

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is out with some new data on student debt (“Grading Student Loans”). Two major highlights: beware of using simple averages, and, more strikingly, more than one in four borrowers is behind on payments—more than twice the share of other forms of personal debt. First, the debt levels. Total student debt is about $870 billion—more than credit card balances ($693 billion) and auto loans ($730 billion). That’s an enormous number, but economists have paid it little attention—surprising, considering the attention paid to household finances. And student… Read More

Morning again in America?

So it looks like Obama plans to sing from the Reagan songbook for his campaign—specifically from the “Morning in America” pages. In case you were too young the first time around, or now are too old to remember, the original went something like this: The logic is this: Reagan got re-elected during the recovery after a deep recession, so Obama can do the same. Also, Reagan whipped Grenada’s ass and Obama killed Osama. Foreign victories don’t count for much in election campaigns but economic conditions count a lot. So how bright is… Read More

NPR hack apologizes for Wall Street

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on how NPR is more toxic than Fox News. Fox preaches to the choir. NPR, though, confuses and misinforms people who might otherwise know better. Its “liberal” reputation makes palatable a deeply orthodox message for a demographic that could be open to a more critical message. The full critique will take some time. But a nice warm-up opportunity has just presented itself: a truly wretched piece of apologetic hackery by Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money economics reporting team, that appears… Read More

The Fed and the class struggle

Mike Konczal assembles some striking quotes from Federal Reserve transcripts showing how obsessed the monetary overlords are with keeping wages down. I won’t recycle any of the quotes—check out his post for the full flavor. Reading these, Mike wonders what the contribution of the Fed has been to wage stagnation over the last few decades. My sense is, not much since Volcker left in 1987. There’s no doubt that the Volcker crackdown of 1979–82, with a second-wave attack in 1984–85, did cause a major shift in the relative power of capital and labor. What… Read More

NYC: more unequal than Brazil

The New York City Independent Budget Office is just out with an analysis (pdf )of income distribution in the city. It’s no surprise that it’s very unequal. The surprise is that it’s far more unequal than Brazil’s. Full details are available in the letter—which was in response to a request from City Council member James Oddo—but here are some highlights: The poorest tenth (decile) of the city’s population has an average income of $988, and claim 0.1% of the city’s total income. Since the source of this data is tax returns, the very… Read More

The boom in Food Stamps

One area where the languishing U.S. economy is breaking records these days is in need. One measure: more than one in seven Americans is now on Food Stamps, an all-time record. Here’s a graph of the share of the U.S. population drawing benefits from what used to be called the Food Stamp program, and is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is no doubt some bureaucrat’s idea of catchy. As of September, the latest month available (data here), over 46 million people, or almost 22 million households, were… Read More

The CEO as humble worker

For some reason—pathological liberalism? being in the pay of the Washington Post?—Matthew Yglesias wants to blur the distinction between worker and boss. In a strange post at his new Slate playpen (“CEO Pay Drives Inequality”), Yglesias declares the old “rhetoric about ‘workers’ is really a legacy of an outdated time.” Why, you might ask, when class distinctions have a salience not only in fact but in discourse that they haven’t seen in many decades? Because unlike the rentiers of old, today’s rich work hard. Really, Matt, the point isn’t how hard you… Read More

Fleshing out the corporate person

This is my contribution to n+1’s OWS Gazette #2. You can download the PDF here. It’s full of terrific stuff. There was a witticism circulating—it embarrasses me a bit to say—on Facebook recently that went something like: “I’ll believe that coporations are people when Texas executes one.” Though I’m no fan of capital punishment, but that was the best argument in favor of corporate personhood I’ve ever heard. Because while corporations have the rights of actual living people—more, maybe—they have none of the responsibilities. Corporations routinely get away with murder. Is the problem… Read More

Moving money (revisited)

This is an edited version of comments I made in my November 5 radio show. Much of it is a rewrite of this LBO piece, though updated to reflect the current credit union thing. Along with the Occupy Wall Street movement has grown up a Move Our Money campaign, pushed by a group calling itself the New Bottom Line. It takes off from a brainchild of that great exploiter of unpaid journalistic labor at her eponymous Post, Arianna Huffington. Ariana’s scheme, launched almost two years ago, would have those of us with money in large… Read More

Fed sees a gloomier future

The Federal Reserve is just out with its latest economic projections. Since the last edition in June, they’ve turned gloomier for the short, medium, and long term. They see growth as slower, and unemployment as higher, for 2011, 2012, 2013, and for the “longer run” than they did just three months ago. For this year, they’re looking for GDP growth to average 1.6–1.7%, compared with a projection of 2.7–2.9% in June. They see unemployment as staying in its current 9.0–9.1% range, instead of falling into the high 8s. For next year, they… Read More

White people can surprise you sometimes

Here’s a fun factoid that surprised me when I discovered it: 60% of white Americans think that the best approach to lowering the crime rate is attacking social problems, not tougher law enforcement. The exact question: Which of the following approaches to lowering the crime rate in the United States comes closer to your own view–do you think more money and effort should go to attacking the social and economic problems that lead to crime through better education and job training or more money and effort should go to deterring crime by… Read More

Angela Davis’ advice: identify with the defeated?

There are many things I admire about Angela Davis, and I have warm memories of being on a panel with her at Rethinking Marxism 2000. She was wise and very gracious. But she reportedly told the OWS gathering at Zuccotti tonight to: 1) identify with Troy Davis, and 2) study the Attica prisoners for pointers on how to become a “dangerous class.” I have two problems with this: 1) Troy Davis is dead. His execution was a crime, but as anything but a moral force, he’s dead. And 2) the Attica prisoners… Read More