Radio commentary, March 18, 2010

In U.S. economic news, more signs of modest recovery. Early in the week, we learned that retail sales rose an OK 0.3% in February. Weak auto sales dragged down that headline number; stripping them out, sales rose a pretty healthy 0.8% last month. Sales of electronics and appliances, sporting goods, and at restaurants and bars were pretty strong. The mix was a departure from recent retail bahvior, when spending on necessities predominated. Now we’re seeing more indulgence and frivolity in the mix. And, in another departure from recent behavior, it looks like the… Read More

Radio commentary, March 13, 2010

Recovery watch In a business cycle update, the grinding slog of a recovery continues. Last week, we learned that the job market looked got a little less bad in February than it was getting for most of 2009. On Friday, we learned that the retail sector had a not-bad February. Broad composite measures of the state of the U.S. economy, like the Conference Board’s Coincident Index and the Chicago Fed’s National Activity Index (CFNAI), are basically getting back to the zero line after deep collapses. Most measures, however, are behaving rather weakly… Read More

Radio commentary, Feburary 6, 2010

[Sorry for the delay. Better late than never, I hope.] suburban poverty In our national imaginary, suburbs are places of affluence, and even a complacent isolation from social problems. As is often the case with received wisdom, this one’s in need of a fact-check. In a new paper, Elizabeth Kneebone and Emily Garr of the Brookings Institution find that suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing population of poor people in the U.S. Before continuing, I should note, as I always do when I talk about our official poverty line, that… Read More

Radio commentary, January 14, 2010

I’m going to keep the opening comments pretty short today. Though some of you have already heard my analysis of the December employment report, the WBAI audience hasn’t. So a quick reprise of that. In a phrase: quite disappointing. It looked for a bit like the labor market might finally be turning around, but those hopes were set back, though not thoroughly dashed, by the news that employers shed 85,000 jobs last month. Some of that might have been the result of terrible weather, even by the standards of Decembers. But there… Read More

Radio commentary, December 31, 2009

Some Janus-y observations at the turns of the year and decade. I apologize for quoting a Facebook status update; it always annoys me when CNN quotes Twitter feeds as if they were news. But this is relevant, I swear. Last week, a friend and colleague of mine whom I have a lot of respect for conceded some political disappointments over the last year in his status update, but concluded that things were basically going in “our” direction. What ever was he talking about? Let’s take stock for a moment. • We’ve just been… Read More

Radio commentary, December 24, 2009

Just a few words on the economic news today because we’re jam-packed with interview material. Iceland, whose economy collapsed when its bubble burst last year, is getting the full IMF treatment. At first, I’d wondered if a Nordic country would get some special ethnic exemption from the typical austerity program, imposed on desperate countries in exchange for loans from the Fund. It hasn’t. On the “advice” of the IMF, the country is raising its sales tax to 25.5%. Low-income taxpayers will get a break on their income taxes as partial recompense, but… Read More

Radio commentary, December 17, 2009

Happy Beethoven’s baptism day. Fed begins to withdraw some indulgence On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve held one of its regular policy-setting meetings, which happen every six weeks or so, and decided to do nothing, for now. That is, it left the interest rate under its direct control, the so-called federal funds rate, the interest rate that bank charge each other for overnight loans, unchanged at 0. Ok, it’s averaged 0.12% for the last few weeks, which is pretty close to 0. It also said in the statement accompanying the decision that it… Read More

Radio commentary, December 10, 2009

score one for the cows An interesting article in the New York Times earlier this week, reporting that Congress has done absolutely nothing to reform the credit-rating industry. You may recall that the credit rating industry helped give us the recent financial crisis, which, though ending, has left behind a toxic economic residue. The industry is paid by the issuers of securities to rate them. Investors then choose whether or not to buy these securities based on the ratings. You may wonder how objective these ratings are if they’re paid for by… Read More

Radio commentary, December 5, 2009

[Not retrieved from the future. Most of this was delivered on WBAI last night, but the bits about the employment report and liberal disillusionment were written for tomorrow morning’s KPFA version.] Things today… Two stories on the front of Thursday’s Financial Times tell you a lot about life in today’s USA. Above the fold—a phrase that probably doesn’t mean that much to anyone under the age of 35—the lead story tells us that the Bank of America is about to pay back the $45 billion the U.S. government lent to it when… Read More

Radio commentary, November 28, 2009

Dubai melts Iceland, only about 80 degrees warmer? The latest sovereign financial crisis is Dubai, whose national holding company declared on Thursday that it needed to stop servicing its debts for a few months. (Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us could do that?) Dubai is a small country, less than 1600 square miles, on the Persian Gulf. It is one of the seven members of the United Arab Emirates. Its population is only about a million and a half, three-quarters of them male, and less than a fifth are citizens…. Read More

Radio commentary, November 14, 2009

[November 12 was the first new show I did on WBAI since the fundraising began in mid-October. Most of the opening commentary was a reprise of the previous week’s analysis of the October employment report, which the New York audience didn’t hear, though the California audience did. The following are the only fresh bits in this week’s punditry.] Now, the usual words on the economic news. In general, we continue to see signs of stabilization, but no serious signs of a turnaround. I suppose that coming after such a deep recession, a… Read More

Radio commentary, November 6, 2009

[WBAI spent most of October and the beginning of November fundraising, and my show was pre-empted much of the time. I’d been doing mostly re-runs for the KPFA version. The November 6 show was a re-run—or an “encore presentation” as they say in TV—but had this bit of fresh commentary prepended.] Friday morning brought the release of the U.S. employment report for October. Once again, less bad is what passes for good these days. The headline job loss was the best—meaning smallest loss—we’ve gotten in more than a year. But below the… Read More

Radio commentary, October 9, 2009

Job market somewhat less miserable In U.S. economic news, the slow improvement of the U.S. labor market continues, emphasis on “slow,” of course, and the baseline of general awfulness on which this improvement is founded. First-time applications for unemployment insurance fell by 33,000 last week to the lowest level since last November, just as the economy was beginning its fall from a cliff. The four-week moving average of initial claims, which is a better way of looking at these volatile figures, fell by 9,000, to its lowest level since last December. The… Read More

Radio commentary, October 3, 2009

[No, not time travel—this is the version that will be delivered on the KPFA version of the show on Saturday morning. Much of it was on Thursday’s WBAI show, except for the bit about the September employment report, which was added for the KPFA and podcast audiences. Oh, and Chicago didn’t get the Olympics, but the analysis of the politics behind Obama’s huckstering is still relevant.] Breaking news from the change we can believe in front! The Obama administration is opposing Congressional legislation to protect reporters from being jailed for refusing to… Read More

Radio commentary, September 17, 2009

Mixed news on the economic front, as has been the case for weeks going on months. Which is better than what went before, meaning unmixed negatives, but is still a sign of how weak and tentative the economic stabilization has been so far. Thursday morning we learned that first-time claims for unemployment insurance declined last week by 12,000, exending the previous week’s decline of 19,000. But over the last couple of months, the decline that began in March and ran through July, seems to have stalled. And so-called continuing claims, that is… Read More