Free Markets, Free People


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Jobless Rate Key To 2010 Results?

Neil King thinks the unemployment rate will be on of the keys to outcomes in 2010.

“Unemployment is the leading economic indicator when it comes to politics,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “Anytime unemployment hits double digits, it’s hard to see the party in control having a good election year.”

Economists generally predict that the number of people out of work will continue to inch up next year, even if the economy begins to rebound. Most see the jobless rate peaking at around 10.5% in the summer. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said Sunday that his own hunch was that the economy would turn around over coming months, but that unemployment would “penetrate the 10% barrier and stay there for a while before we start down.”

As Dale has noted, if we were calculating unemployment as we did in 1974, we’d be in the 17% area. That means a lot of voters are hurting and the one place they can voice their displeasure is at the ballot box. Additionally, by 2010 the “we inherited this” gig will have been up for some time. Democrats in Congress have been in charge for almost 4 years now. Politically that means this is their economy. The last time unemployment was over 10% during a midterm, the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House.

Then there’s the stimulus which was touted to be the answer to unemployment. The current administration promised that passing it would keep unemployment down in the area of 8%. But after its passage it didn’t even slow the growth of unemployment, a fact Republicans are sure to point out in the coming year.

As it turns out, Democrats may be happy to just lose 26 seats. Republicans are targeting 54 vulnerable Democrats, 49 of which come from districts John McCain carried in 2008.

Add in Afghanistan, health care, cap-and-trade and the huge expansion of government and the fact that Congress is deeply unpopular, losses in the 40s might not be as out of the question as one might think (think of an energized Republican base and a dispirited Democratic base with independents leaning to the GOP side).


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Phantom Jobs Support Fake Recovery?

John Crudele alerts us to a GIGO (garbage-in-garbage-out) statistic the Labor Department uses and has used for a long time that provides erroneous data.  Bad as it is in normal times, it is even worse in bad economic times:

In 11 of the 12 months, the government adds massive numbers of jobs — sometimes more than 100,000 — that it thinks, but can’t prove, exist.

This is because the Labor Department uses something called the birth/death model, which assumes that no matter how bad the economy is, there are itty-bitty, newly-formed companies — which can’t be reached by government surveyors — that are creating jobs.

So it pumps up its statistics with unconfirmed jobs created which hides the real extent of the jobs lost. And, of course, as Crudele points out, the stats are iffy in a good economy, but reliance on them in this sort of an economy is simply a travesty.

Even the Labor Department has now admitted that:

Right after Friday’s report came out, Bloomberg News called Chris Manning, the national benchmark branch chief at the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and asked about the 34,000 probably non-existent jobs.

“In this period of steep job losses, the birth/death model didn’t work as well as it usually does,” Manning told Bloomberg. “To the extent that there was an overstatement in the birth/death model, that is likely to still be there.” No freakin’ kidding! This year alone, this model has added over 700,000 jobs that don’t exist to the government’s count.

The Labor Department is not only still using this model, but it nearly doubled the number of phantom jobs for this September compared with the same month last year.

So if you’re wondering how distinguished economists can get things so wrong, this provides a peek. After all, these are the statistics they’re stuck using. Phantom job creation stats based on an absurd assumption that says something’s happening that can’t be confirmed and, by the way, it continues to happen at the same rate even in the worst of financial times. Does that conform with your experience in the real world?

Mine either. Keep that all in mind when you hear the “experts” tell you that according to the latest unemployment stats, it just isn’t as bad as you might think.

[HT: Mark W.]


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The Recession is Racist (Updated)

Just thought you should know:

While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.

Across the nation, the surge in unemployment has cut across all demographic lines, and the gap between blacks and whites has risen, but at a much slower rate than in New York.

Economists said they were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs in New York, especially when a large share of the layoffs in the city have been in fields where they are not well represented, like finance and professional services. But in those sectors, the economists suggested that blacks may have had less seniority when layoffs occurred. And black workers hold an outsize share of the jobs in retailing and other service industries that have been shrinking as consumers curtail their spending.

Hmm, so maybe it’s just NYC that’s racist?

“Low-wage workers and workers who lack skills are really getting hit hard,” he said. “These are the workers who are sort of fungible. They lose their jobs very quickly, particularly in retail, the people who move boxes and do unskilled work. There are large numbers of African-Americans in that sector.”

Manufacturing, which has shed more jobs than any other sector of the city’s economy, had become a mainstay for black workers, Mr. Jones said. Government jobs had also become a prime source of solid, stable work for many blacks in the city, he added. But lately there have been cutbacks there, too, as falling tax revenue has forced the paring back of budgets.

So it’s those who hire unskilled workers who are racist? This theme is confusing.

Still, Mr. Parrott’s analysis painted a stark picture of how uneven the effects have been for whites, blacks and members of other minorities. His figures show that whites gained about 130,000 jobs in the year that ended April 30 over the previous 12 months, but blacks, Hispanics and Asians all lost jobs during that period. Employment fell by about 17,000 jobs for blacks, 26,000 jobs for Hispanics and 18,000 for Asians and other ethnic groups, the data show.

“That’s a black-and-white employment picture,” Mr. Parrott said. “It’s like night and day over the 12 months. “There’s a real racial shift taking place in the city’s labor market in the past year.”

Okay, I’ve got it now. It’s white New Yorkers who are racist. Or maybe its the high-skilled labor market that’s racist? Again, I’m not sure.

But the article seems to imply pretty strongly that racism is at the bottom of this problem. Otherwise, why not mention how many of the unemployed are men, or of prime-age, or well-educated? Heck, why not mention that of the 108,000 [139,100 newly] unemployed workers in NYC [over the 12 month period between April 2008 and 2009], 61,000 [92,000] (or a little more than 56% [66%]) are white (which really makes you wonder where the 130,000 jobs figure came from)?* Obviously, the story is intended to tell us that somebody is being racist, and that’s why the “black-white gap in joblessness” is being discussed at all.

Welcome to post-racial Obamaland. If you don’t know whose fault it is, then it’s probably yours, racist.

UPDATE: Those numbers (in the sentence marked above with the *) were really bothering me. I went back and looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for New York City’s unemployment and discovered that the NYT article is way off. The number of jobs lost between April 2008 and April 2009 was 139,100, of which (according to the article) 17,000 were lost by blacks, 26,000 were lost by Hispanics, and 18,000 were lost by Asians and other races. Somehow or another, Mr. Parrott, who the article cites for the numbers, came up with 130,000 jobs gained by whites in this period. Of course, that makes absolutely no sense because, if it were true, then there would have been an increase in employment during that period, and the unemployment rate would have fallen, not skyrocketed. Instead, 139,100 people became unemployed, only 47,000 of whom were non-white. Ergo, instead of whites gaining 130,000 jobs, they lost 92,000.

There are other problems with the article as well, some of which you can discover by reading the NYT (in fact, the stories are written by the same person). For example, the story above cites low-wage, manufacturing and government workers as hardest hit, but last month the picture was just the opposite (emphasis added):

In the private work force, the weakness in May was concentrated in the fields of communications media, advertising and other information services, as well as in finance and education, according to James Brown, an analyst with the state’s Labor Department.

Those losses offset employment gains in tourism-related businesses and construction, Mr. Brown said. He said that aggressive price-cutting by hotels had kept tourists visiting and saved jobs. Construction benefited from the flow of federal stimulus funds, he added.

The latest numbers, Mr. Brown said, illustrate that New York’s economy is still contracting, despite recent fluctuations in the city’s unemployment rate, which was 8 percent in April.

“Although the unemployment rate actually dipped slightly in three of the last five months, the trend is still strongly upward,” he said. “Despite some positive notes, the city’s job market is still weak and the weakest areas — financial activities and professional and business services — will not resume growth until after the national economy improves.”

I’m sure there’s other stuff that’s wrong as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a racist.

Podcast for 31 May 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Billy, and Dale discuss the economy and the Sotomayor nomination.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

Podcast for 24 May 09

In this podcast, Bruce and Dale discuss discuss the president’s announcement of legal indefinite detention, and the economy.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.


The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Apparently the Fed has decided that their doubling of the monetary base in the last 7 months has done so fantastically, that they’re ready to do more of it.

Some Federal Reserve officials are open to raising the amounts of mortgage and Treasury securities purchase programs beyond the $1.75 trillion that they have already committed to buying, according to minutes from the Fed’s April meeting.

Please pay no attention to the inflation lurking behind the curtain.  Our benevolent overlords have everything under control.  So, why more monetary loosening.

Officials, meanwhile, projected an even deeper recession than they expected three months earlier and a more sluggish recovery over the next two years as labor markets remain under pressure.

Huh.  So much for that “turned the corner’ crap from last month.  But that’s OK.  because, you see, if you’re in the middle of a bursted bubble cused by overly loose monetary policy in the first place, then the way to get back on track is an even looser monetary policy.  That’ll fix you right up, you see.

At least, that’s what the Harvard econo-boys tell us.  And they are, of course, the Best and Brightest.

Meanwhile, the DoL reports that weekly claims for unemployment for last week were revised upwards to 643,000, but this week’s numbers were only 628,500.  So, that’s a nice little downward tick.  Except that we’ve got all those upcoming claims from shutting down car dealerships for Chrysler and GM.  Let’s call that 2,000 dealerships with an average of–I’m just spit-balling, here–25 persons per dealership left unemployed.  Let’s call it 50,000 new claims ahead.

Predicted vs. Actual

Here’s an interesting little chart I found at Innocent Bystanders.  The light blue line is the Obama administration’s prediction of how terrible unemployment would be if we didn’t pass the stimulus plan.  The dark blue line is the prediction of how much better things would be we did pass it.  The dark red triangles show the actual unemployment statistics.

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

So, how’s that recovery plan working out for us?  Not so good, apparently.

I merely provide the chart for informational purposes.  I know it’s useless to make any criticisms of the actual performance of the plan, just as it was useless to predict that this is pretty much what would happen.

Besides, saying, “I told you so”, is so churlish and mean.

Economy: No Longer In “Free Fall”

While I appreciate the fact that we’re hearing a more positive spin from the Obama administration concerning the economy, the so-called “glimmers of hope” aren’t really anything but outliers.

Worse-than-expected news on unemployment and home sales Thursday dampened optimism that a broad economic recovery might be near.

Jobs losses aren’t expected to bottom out until the middle of 2010 and the housing market hasn’t bottomed out yet either:

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors said sales of existing homes fell 3 percent in March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million units, with February revised down to 4.71 million units. Sales had been expected to fall to an annual rate of 4.7 million units, according to Thomson Reuters.

Per the analysis, the best reading of these economic indicators is that perhaps the “free fall” is coming to an end.

“The economic downturn remains intense, but it is no longer intensifying,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s “We are still falling, but we are no longer crashing.”

So, while we may have passed what some are terming the “crisis stage”, the economy is still contracting. I’m coming to believe that we may not see any real and meaningful “glimmers of hope” until mid 2010.


Loser Spouts Off

Bob Shrum, perhaps best known for his masterful performance in shepherding John Kerry’s presidential race to…uh…it’s…conclusion, now sounds off about economic myths.

One of the most stubborn [myths] is what [John] Kennedy denounced at Yale—the notion that deficits are always evil and the balanced budget an inherent public good. This myth is now constantly exploited by do-nothing opponents of Obama’s recovery plan. On Sunday, George Stephanopoulos read a viewer’s complaint to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: “How do you justify printing money out of thin air?” Isn’t the inevitable consequence “hyperinflation?” Geithner calmly rebuked the cliché by pointing to the Federal Reserve’s capacity to counter inflation by raising interest rates once the economy is back on track.

Well, he’s cartainly right about that.  The Fed can always just raise interest rates.  It’s what Paul Volcker did as Fed Chairman in the late 70s and early 80s.  If by “back on track” he means that we can have an unemployment rate of 12%, as we did in 1982, and a Fed Funds rate of 14%, then, I guess he’d be right.  It certainly got rid of inflation.

After all, cutting spending now would accelerate, not reverse, the downturn, and trigger a spiral of declining federal revenues that could leave budget balancing out of reach no matter how deeply we cut.

And raising short-term interest rates by the Fed at some point in the future would…not?

This is elementary economics.

I certainly wouldn’t contradict that.

In reality, Roosevelt increased spending overall by 40 percent from 1933 to 1934, and the deficit by nearly a third. In the first five years of the New Deal, the gross domestic product rose more than 40 percent. The New Deal faltered not when FDR disdained conservative advice on deficits, but only when he briefly followed it. After Roosevelt drastically cut the deficit in his 1937 budget, the economy promptly tanked. When FDR reversed course, the economy turned around.

In reality, Roosevelt also increased tax rate; the top tax rate climbing from 63% to 79%.  No doubt his conservative critics encouraged that, too.  In other words, Roosevelt both decreased spending and increased taxes. In addition, there were new Social Security taxes in 1936 and 1937.  And a new corporate tax on undistributed earnings went into effect in 1937, too. If only we had some way to know what effect tax increases have on economic growth!

Oh, and the Fed doubled reserve requirements on banks from 1936 to 1937.

I wonder–pure speculation of course–if significant tax increases and contractions in the money supply might have, in some mysterious way, contributed to the economic downturn of 1937-1938.

Sadly, we may never know.

In 1933, FDR blew up a London economic summit that sought to set fixed currency exchange rates, a virtual return to the gold standard that would have hobbled his economic strategy.

In other words, FDR was a unilateralist cowboy who intentionally flaunted international consensus for his own political ends, and, incidentally, reversed course a year later.

There was a lot more stuff going on in 1933-1940 than simply government spending.  Not that you’d know it from reading Mr. Shrum’s amusing little article.

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