Measuring the carnage

When Trump promised to end “American carnage” in his inaugural address, he had no idea he’d end up presiding over mass death and economic collapse, but history can be a brutal ironist. Here’s a look at the bloodletting in the job market, which is central to most people’s economic well-being. Most of the time, the monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is of interest mostly to econogeeks, but the April 2020 edition, released on Friday, May 8, was like no other since the end of World War II. The… Read More

Yanis Varoufakis on Larry Summers

More Larry Summers content. with him much in the news as a Biden adviser. From Yanis Varoufakis’s Adults in the Room, pp. 21–24: Determined to delay the serious business ahead of us a few moments more, I signalled to the bartender for a whiskey of my own and said, ‘Before you tell me about my “mistake”, let me say, Larry, how important your messages of support and advice have been in the past weeks. I am truly grateful. Especially as for years I have been referring to you as the Prince of… Read More

Larry Summers, 2000 vintage

With Larry Summers in the news as a Biden advisor, a check out this recounting of my encounter with him in April 2000.

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): April 23, 2020 Vijay Prashad on China (and Sinophobia), Kerala, and the crucial importance of social organization • Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht, authors of Bigger than Bernie, on Sanders, socialism, electoralism, and where it all goes from here.

Forced binaries, etc.

I’ve been hating on the Democratic party in public for almost 35 years, in private for longer than that. But I have to say, and I don’t see how anyone could deny this, if a Democrat were president now there just wouldn’t be anywhere near as many dead and doomed people. The CDC might not have been richly funded, but it certainly wouldn’t have been eviscerated, with talented people not wanting to go anywhere near it. The pandemic task forces wouldn’t have been disbanded, and probably would have been listened to from… Read More

Biden by 20

Based on historical patterns going back to 1948, Biden should beat Trump by almost 20 points in the popular vote. Of course, if anyone could blow this, it would be Biden. Back in 1996, when I was still doing Left Business Observer, I came across a 1993 paper by Andrew Gelman and Gary King, “Why are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls so Variable when Votes are so Predictable?” It cited research showing that despite all the volatility in the opinion polls during the campaign, the results were fairly easy to foresee months… Read More

Miserable employment report

This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 701,000 jobs disappeared in March. Economists had been expecting about a third that number. Hardest hit were bars and restaurants, accounting for 60% of the loss. Also hit hard: retail, temp work, and, shockingly, health care. One reason job loss expectations were relatively low was that the survey of employers on which the count is based is done during the week containing the 12th—in this case, between March 8 and 14. (No one is expecting anything but a torrent of bad news in… Read More

The hits keep coming

Goldman Sachs attracted a lot of attention with its forecast that US GDP will be off 34% in the second quarter of this year. That is a very big number. It’s three-and-a-half times the worst quarter in US economic history since quarterly GDP stats began in 1947. (That quarter, by the way, was the first of 1958, the onset of a sharp recession, which featured, among other things, an “Asian flu.”) Here’s a little perspective on that number. That 34% figure is annualized, meaning it’s what the total decline would amount to… Read More

Unemployment claims surge

Last week, 3.3 million people* applied for unemployment insurance. That’s five times the previous record weekly number, a series that goes back to 1967. Compared to monthly averages and expressed as a percent of employment, which is how it’s shown in the graph below, that’s over two-and-a-half times the previous record. As of the previous week, 1.8 million people were drawing unemployment insurance, so the number of new claimants is almost twice the number already on benefits, or 182% as many, to be precise. That ratio has never exceeded 26% before. This… Read More

Explaining the rot

In my article about fighting the coronavirus and economic crises yesterday, I said: We also need to invest in the physical and social infrastructure of this country. For decades, civilian public investment net of depreciation has hovered just above 0, meaning that we’re doing little better than replacing things as they decay. Here’s some more detail on that, which updates a September 2017 post. Graphed below are histories of net public investment in the US, from the national income accounts. (The source is table 5.2.5, here.) “Net” means after accounting for depreciation, aka… Read More

A few ambitious points on fighting the crisis

We are facing two crises at once, health and economic, that are related in very important ways. The covid-19 epidemic has done major damage around the world, but it’s highlighting some serious structural problems with the US social model that better-run countries are not so afflicted by. We are plagued by a deep economic polarization complicated by minimal social protections; severely diminished state capacity, with eroded institutional structures and extremely debased quality of personnel at the highest levels; years of underinvestment in basic infrastructure, both broadly and in health care particularly; and… Read More

Why UI isn’t enough

I’m going to be posting a series of commentaries on the current crisis. Here’s a quick first It’s odd to see Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer objecting to Republican schemes to send everyone a check for $1,000, maybe two. Of course, one- or two-off checks for $1,000 won’t pay many of the the bills for very long. But talk of means-testing right now looks mean, cheap, and politically suicidal. Schumer says that rather than write checks, we should expand unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. It would have to be some expansion. Benefits are low,… Read More

Taxing the rich revisited

Back in October, I wrote about how taxing the rich, while a nice start, won’t be enough to fund a serious welfare state. That would require taxing the broader population seriously and we need to be honest about that. Until we are, Reagan will continue to rule from beyond the grave. Most of that post was about the details of financing—the cheapness of our own welfare state and what it would take to get to something more Scandinavian. But the political angle deserves more attention. That was developed nicely the other day… Read More

No robo

You can hardly look at Twitter without reading something about the impending AI revolution: robots are coming for your job. I’m a skeptic. By that I don’t mean to argue that IT and AI and all the other abbreviations and acronyms aren’t changing our world profoundly. They are. Tech affects everything—work, play, love, politics, art, all of it. But the maximalist version, where robots, equipped with artificial intelligence, are going to replace human workers, is way over done. No doubt they will replace some. But not all. Back in 1987, ancient history… Read More

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link): February 13, 2020 Yasha Levine on Chrystia Freeland, Ukrainian Nazis, and the proxy war against Russia • Lizzie O’Shea, author of Future Histories, on fake techno-utopianism and imagining a better future