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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Bleak Economy

Nicholas Eberstadt writes at Commentary:
On Wall Street and in some parts of Washington these days, one hears that America has gotten back to “near full employment.” For Americans outside the bubble, such talk must seem nonsensical. It is true that the oft-cited “civilian unemployment rate” looked pretty good by the end of the Obama era—in December 2016, it was down to 4.7 percent, about the same as it had been back in 1965, at a time of genuine full employment. The problem here is that the unemployment rate only tracks joblessness for those still in the labor force; it takes no account of workforce dropouts. Alas, the exodus out of the workforce has been the big labor-market story for America’s new century. (At this writing, for every unemployed American man between 25 and 55 years of age, there are another three who are neither working nor looking for work.) Thus the “unemployment rate” increasingly looks like an antique index devised for some earlier and increasingly distant war: the economic equivalent of a musket inventory or a cavalry count. [emphasis added]
By the criterion of adult work rates, by contrast, employment conditions in America remain remarkably bleak. From late 2009 through early 2014, the country’s work rates more or less flatlined. So far as can be told, this is the only “recovery” in U.S. economic history in which that basic labor-market indicator almost completely failed to respond.
Since 2014, there has finally been a measure of improvement in the work rate—but it would be unwise to exaggerate the dimensions of that turnaround. As of late 2016, the adult work rate in America was still at its lowest level in more than 30 years. To put things another way: If our nation’s work rate today were back up to its start-of-the-century highs, well over 10 million more Americans would currently have paying jobs.
Consider the following facts. First, according to the Census Bureau, geographical mobility in America has been on the decline for three decades, and in 2016 the annual movement of households from one location to the next was reportedly at an all-time (postwar) low. Second, as a study by three Federal Reserve economists and a Notre Dame colleague demonstrated last year, “labor market fluidity”—the churning between jobs that among other things allows people to get ahead—has been on the decline in the American labor market for decades, with no sign as yet of a turnaround. Finally, and not least important, a December 2016 report by the “Equal Opportunity Project,” a team led by the formidable Stanford economist Raj Chetty, calculated that the odds of a 30-year-old’s earning more than his parents at the same age was now just 51 percent: down from 86 percent 40 years ago. Other researchers who have examined the same data argue that the odds may not be quite as low as the Chetty team concludes, but agree that the chances of surpassing one’s parents’ real income have been on the downswing and are probably lower now than ever before in postwar America.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fighting Deletion

Melissa Chan reports at Time:
An Arizona man who has published thousands of animal welfare documents on his website since the government purged the once-public information is pledging to keep digging up data until federal officials reverse course.
Russ Kick, a 47-year-old writer and anthologist, said he immediately sprang into action last week when the U.S. Department of Agriculture suddenly pulled from its website a slew of papers regarding animal welfare at thousands of facilities across the country. Since then, he has made public again more than 10,000 documents, and thousands more are set to hit the web soon.
“We have the right to know what’s going on,” Kick told TIME on Thursday. “The more we know about what’s going on, the better.”
For nearly a year, Kick has been running a website called, where he has re-published information wiped from several agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. His only goal, he said, is to increase transparency and make important government documents more easily available.
More about the site here. 

At CNN, Eli Watkins and Laura Jarrett writes about Trump's deleted tweets:
Deleting a tweet is commonplace -- Twitter does not allow users to edit their messages after they post. The question is whether Trump is violating the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which requires all the president's records be preserved for eventual release to the public on a delayed basis long after the commander in chief leaves office.
The National Archives and Records Administration is tasked with managing the records. Reached by CNN on Friday, NARA spokesman John Valceanu said the PRA should be followed but directed all questions about the current president to the White House.
Reached for comment, Kelly Love, a White House spokeswoman, said Saturday, "We have systems in place to capture all tweets and preserve them as presidential records; even if they have been deleted."
She did not immediately provide further details, including whether those "systems" would apply to Trump's personal account as stringently as they do the @POTUS account. The PRA specifically does not distinguish between personal and work efforts, and the last provision of the law prohibits personal communications unless there is government redundancy.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Budget Ignorance in California

At The Sacramento Bee, Dan Walters writes that the PPIC Poll asks respondents to rank state functions by budget size and then to list their own priorities.
Their answers – including those from the latest poll in January – consistently show that most believe that prisons get the most money, followed by health and human services, K-12 education and higher education. Very few respondents say they don’t know.
In fact, of those four major areas – which together constitute the vast majority of state general fund spending – schools by far get the most money, well over 40 percent, while prisons are last at about 9 percent.
Answers to the second question have been just as consistent – that K-12 education is the highest priority of voters, followed by health and human services, higher education and prisons.
In fact, therefore, the budget’s relative priorities are exactly those of voters – but they are blissfully ignorant of that, believing that schools are being neglected when they’ve enjoyed a 50 percent increase in per-pupil spending since Jerry Brown returned to the governorship six years ago.
The PPIC poll also reveals that Democrats are markedly more likely to be wrong about budget reality than Republicans, with 46 percent believing that prisons get the biggest share of spending.

Read more here:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bad Economic News Ahead

Andrew Yang writes at Quartz:
Literally the smartest people in the world think an unprecedented wave of job destruction is coming with the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, software, and automation. My friends in Silicon Valley have read the Second Machine Age and Rise of the Robots and they see a wave coming.
The White House published a report last month that reinforced this view. Some of the headline stats:
  • 83% of the jobs where people make less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement.
  • Between 9% and 47% of jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological change, with the worst threats falling among the less educated.
  • Between 2.2 and 3.1 million car, bus, and truck driving jobs in the US will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.
Read that last sentence again: we’re confident that between two and three million Americans who drive vehicles for a living will lose their jobs in the next fifteen years. Self-driving cars are the most obvious job-destroying technology, but there are similar innovations ahead that will dislocate cashiers, fast food workers, customer service representatives, groundskeepers, and many many others in a few short years. How many of these people will be readily employable elsewhere?
Okay, you’re thinking. But isn’t this all still in the somewhat distant future, since unemployment is only 4.6% according to the headlines? Actually, automation has already eliminated about four million manufacturing jobs in the US since 2000. And instead of finding new jobs, a lot of those people left the workforce and didn’t come back. The US labor force plummeted by about 10 million during the same period, down to levels not seen in decades. The labor participation rate is now at only 62.7%, a rate right below El Salvador and right above the Ukraine.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Informal Lobbying at Mar-A-Lago

Mar-A-Lago is Trump's country club, where members pay him $200k to join. Nicholas Confessore, Maggie Haberman and Eric Lipton report at The New York Times:
Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Mr. Trump’s policies. At least three club members are under consideration for an ambassadorship. Most of the 500 have had memberships predating Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and there are a limited number of memberships still available.
Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, said the president had no conflicts of interest, a reference to the fact that federal law exempts him from provisions prohibiting federal employees from taking actions that could benefit themselves financially.

“But regardless, he has not and will not be discussing policy with club members,” she said in a written statement.

Mar-a-Lago, she added, is “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and it “was intended to be the Southern White House, and the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”
But unlike the real White House, there is no public access, and no official visitor log is available. When the White House press corps accompanied Mr. Trump to the club and nearby golf course last weekend, they were housed during part of the trip in a room whose windows had been covered with black plastic.
Mar-a-Lago members and their guests, on the other hand, had a front-row seat to a brewing foreign policy crisis, when Mr. Trump and his aides huddled on the dining patio to devise a response to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the middle of a dinner with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his wife.
“No one needs to have a long sit-down with Donald Trump,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “If you can whisper in his ear for 40 seconds, that can be decisive on your policy.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ranking Presidents

As the nation marks Presidents Day 2017, C-SPAN is releasing the results of its third Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, in which a cross-section of 91 presidential historians ranked the 43 former occupants of the White House on ten attributes of leadership.

As in C-SPAN's first two surveys, released in 2000 and 2009, Abraham Lincoln receives top billing among the historians. George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt retain their top five status, while Dwight Eisenhower moves into the top five for the first time.

Former President Barack Obama enters the ranks for the first time in the #12 position. Notably, his leadership category ratings range from #3 for "Pursued Equal Justice for All," to #39 for "Relations with Congress." His predecessor, George W. Bush, has benefitted somewhat from the passing of years: His ranking at #33, is up three places from our 2009 survey. Dwight Eisenhower also advanced three spots since 2009, moving to the #5 position from #8 overall. Bill Clinton remains unchanged at #15.

The biggest presidential loser from our 2009 survey is Andrew Jackson, who was #13 in 2009, and who now stands at #18 overall.

Three presidents continue to hold the same bottom rankings as they did in 2000 and 2009: James Buchanan remains in last place at #43, preceded by Andrew Johnson (#42), and Franklin Pierce (#41).

Note that they rank even lower than William Henry Harrison, who served for only one month. The most-average U.S. president, as rated by our historian participants is Ulysses S. Grant, who ranks 22 out of 43 presidents.
A team of academic advisors has guided C-SPAN for each of its three surveys: Dr. Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University; Dr. Edna Greene Medford, Professor of History, Howard University; and Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian and biographer. The team approved the ten criteria, the same used in C-SPAN's 2000 and 2009 Surveys, consulted on the list of invited participants, and supervised the reporting of the results. Full rankings for each of the 43 presidents as well as shareable/social media graphics are available at .