James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

PelosiCare could be bad news for the dollar

Nov 9, 2009 20:23 UTC

If the Reserve Bank of India’s directors had any doubts about the wisdom of buying 200 tonnes of IMF gold — and likely dumping some U.S. Treasuries in the process — they had only to watch last weekend’s legislative activities on Capitol Hill. The proceedings provided plenty of reassurance that the move was a smart play.

Nothing in the healthcare reform bill that passed the House of Representatives should give investors in dollar-denominated assets any confidence that U.S. policymakers are serious about tackling the government’s structural budget deficit.

And if the dollar’s gradual decline hastens dangerously, deficit fears might well be the catalyst.

Yes, the healthcare plan does slightly trim the 10-year budget deficit from where it would be otherwise. But America’s long-term entitlement problems are such that healthcare reform needs to cut long-term health costs substantially rather than just being “deficit neutral”.

Even worse, to believe in even the modest claims of deficit neutrality, one has to also possess faith that some $500 billion in 10-year Medicare cuts will really happen. That is a monstrously tall order when Congress is working feverishly to restore those cuts in legislative side deals.

Another way the House proposes to pay for reform is through a 5.4 percent income surtax on wealthier Americans and small businesses.

Like America’s alternative minimum tax, this surtax is not indexed for inflation. So every year, the levy will affect more and more taxpayers. Unless, of course, Congress passes a temporary fix every year, as it does with the AMT. Such a move would protect the middle class, but it would also make expanded healthcare coverage a fiscal fiasco.

The House plan will surely be altered by whatever the Senate passes, assuming the Senate is able to pass anything. But the House bill is still a disturbing sign that fiscal rectitude is a low priority for at least half of the legislative branch.

Higher gold prices seem to go hand in hand with bad U.S. economic policy, be it the higher inflation of the Carter years or the budget busting of the Bush II years. And surging gold prices may be giving a thumbs down to Washington economic policy this time as well

COMMENT

what happens to Medicare, and I can not afford health Insurance for my wife

Posted by Chad | Report as abusive

Remember the Misery Index?

Nov 9, 2009 19:13 UTC

I am not sure Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ does: “It’s hard to get inflation when unemployment is so high.”

Just go back to the 1970s, my friend. How about 1975 when we had roughly 9 percent inflation and 9 percent inflation and 8.5 percent unemployment? There’s your Misery Index. Actually, the rest of the article is quite good, focusing on how banks are buying treasuries rather than lending.

COMMENT

Hilsenrath is about 25, right? Of course he doesn’t remember.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Tobin taxes, the dollar and gold

Nov 9, 2009 19:05 UTC

Perhaps the real reason Gordon Brown suggested a securities transaction tax was to tamp down on currency speculation that driven down global currencies vs. gold. Willam Rees-Mogg explains:

At St Andrews, Gordon Brown unexpectedly advocated the adoption of a global Tobin tax. He was immediately repudiated by Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, and by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the IMF. The proposed global Tobin tax has the support of Oxfam and of some left-wing economists, but without American support, it does not have the least chance of being adopted.

The Swedes experimented with a national transaction tax in the 1980s. It did not work because bankers avoided paying tax by transferring transactions to markets in which it was not imposed. The tax had to be abandoned in the early 1990s. This negative history must have been known to Mr Brown; perhaps the clumsiness of his diplomacy reflects the pressure he is feeling.

In Britain, there is an urgent need for a new tax base. One can take almost any very large figure as the sum needed to balance the budget. At some point, Britain will have to raise taxes and cut expenditure. It is hard to see where this additional revenue can be found.

No doubt it would be helpful to Mr Brown if the other governments of the world would join him in policing a worldwide transaction tax on the banks. Britain would be a major beneficiary. Like the US, Britain has a combination of very large bank debts with a very large budget deficit. As a response to the recession, large sums of money have been injected into these economies. That has eroded global confidence in the pound and dollar.

If there is no Tobin tax, it will be difficult to rebuild confidence in these currencies, and the Tobin tax is not going to happen, if only because it would not work. Two factors emerge. Gold will be a stronger reserve currency than paper, and the market will increasingly decide national policies. “You can’t buck the market”, whether in taxes, in dollars or in gold.

COMMENT

If the government’s need more money, put a tax on those firms themselves. Taxing every transaction slows down business. It cuts down the money individuals put into company’s stock, thereby hurting private industry. Why slow down business to get more tax money? It’s stupid.

Posted by Jack Pearson | Report as abusive

Unemployment and presidential disapproval ratings

Nov 6, 2009 20:12 UTC

Some interesting charts (via TNR) looking at the linkage between unemployment and disapproval ratings:

110609reagan

110609clinton2

110609obama1

COMMENT

refitting these graphs so the unemployment rate has a constant scale reveals that the correlation isn’t nearly as strong as it looks right now.

There’s also no reason for the variable scales, other than to mislead. The range for Reagan is almost identical to the range under Obama.

America’s jobless recovery

Nov 6, 2009 18:10 UTC

Here are a few opinions about the jump in the unemployment rate that caught my eye:

1) Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

The October unemployment rate is still below the 10.8 percent peak reached in December of 1982, but the workforce is considerably older now and in age cohorts where workers are less likely to be unemployed. If the workforce had the same age distribution as in 1982 but current unemployment rates for each age cohort, then the unemployment rate would be more than a percentage point higher. The 10.7 percent unemployment rate for men is 0.6 percentage points higher than the 10.1 percent peak in 1982. This is consistent with the massive job loss in construction and manufacturing.

In all likelihood, the economy will continue to shed jobs, at least through the rest of the 2009 and probably into the first months of 2010. The unemployment rate will probably not peak until the spring of next year, at close to 11.0 percent.

2) Michael Feroli, JPMorgan

Even worse than this were the figures reported in the household survey of employment. The unemployment rate smashed through the psychologically significant 10% level to hit 10.2% in October. This came even as the labor force participation rate fell another 0.1% last month to fall to 65.1%. Normally, a falling participation rate would be expected to temper any increase in the unemployment rate, as discouraged workers who drop out of the labor force no longer count as officially unemployed. Moreover, the measure of employment in the household survey fell 589,000 in October and has been significantly weaker than the establishment survey measure over each of the prior three months.

Among the other details in the household survey, the unemployment rate for college-educated persons has actually been roughly stable since June at 4.7%, while less-educated groups have seen a big move up. The male unemployment rate hit a post-war high of 11.4% last month, breaking the previous record of 11.2% in December of 1982. . According to the CPS labor force flow data, only 15% of unemployed persons found a job last month, a new low.


3) Mike Englund, Action Economics
The 190k payroll drop, combined with the 91k in upward back-revisions, slightly outpaced assumptions. Yet, the workweek failed to rise from its 33.0 cycle-low, hence leaving a 0.2% drop in hours-worked that will weigh on Q4 GDP estimates, as will the hefty jobless rate surge to 10.2% that shattered the 10% psychological barrier. The household survey also revealed a sobering 589k drop in household employment, while hourly earnings failed to provide any low inflation solace, with a 0.3% gain.
COMMENT

My View : Fundamental Changes Can Ride Out Of This Great Recession Not That Easy

1. Unsustainable oil price & health care premium, disastrous swine flu pandemic, heartbreaking war waste and slow implementation of stimulus package ( roughly $155bn out of $787bn ).

2. Health care reform & sustainable energy act in conjunction with stimulus package are all about economic recovery and work creation.

Posted by hsr0601 | Report as abusive

A few more thoughts on the shocking 10.2 percent unemployment rate

Nov 6, 2009 14:35 UTC

Some quick hits:

1) Remember in the early 1980s 7 straight quarters of avg. GDP growth of roughly 7% (!) lowered jobless rate by only 2.5 percentage points. Hard to see economy booming like that between now and Election Day 2010.

2) Healthcare has added nearly 600k jobs during recession. Good thing Congress is leaving that sector alone. Oh, wait …

3) Obama’s lost year: 2009 may end with no HC, capandtrade, financial reform — just a $787b stimulus that didnt prevent 10.2% unemployment. That is going to be the economic assumption of the average voter, I would think.

4) Dem conundrum: the worse economy gets, more people distrust government. Bad economy was supposed to increase desire for “economic security” …this was reflected in Virginia vote, certainly

5) Will WH actually try and focus on fact that the economy lost 29k fewer jobs in Sept. vs. Oct.? Lead balloon.

6) It’s not that the recession is worse than WH thought, it’s that their model of how the economy works is dysfunctional.

7) End of the Affair? You can be sure liberals (like Krugman) are hugely second guessing Obama decision to not press for LARGER stimulus

COMMENT

“Remember in the early 1980s 7 straight quarters of avg. GDP growth of roughly 7%”

Ah yes, the Reagan years. Remember getting that growth by tripling the national debt?

Posted by gordo | Report as abusive

The massacre of small business

Nov 6, 2009 14:26 UTC

Good point from David Goldman:

The big issue in the US economy is the massacre of small business. That’s why the household survey shows that 558,000 Americans “became unemployed” during October, while the establishment survey of payrolls shows a decline of only 190,000 jobs. The establishment data, which are collected from larger businesses, are more reliable; the household survey is based on telephone interviews with randomly-selected households. But the numbers are so large as to make clear that small businesses are shutting down.

With commercial and industrial lending by American banks down 13% since September 2008, and most banks continuing to “tighten lending standards” in the Fed’s official poll, this is not surprising. Wal-Mart will make it through a recession; not the tea-cozy shop down the mall corridor, much less the real-estate agency in the half-abandoned exurb. The global speculative grade default rate, as Moody’s reported this week, has risen to a post-Great Depression high of 12%. Credit lines for small businesses (including home equity, credit cards, and all the other devices entrepreneurs use to fund themselves) will continue to shrink.

Me: By the way, one-third of the revenue from the surtax in the House healthcare bill would come from small business.

COMMENT

You got it right James, and DC doesn’t, still.

Posted by yr | Report as abusive

US unemployment rate surges to 10.2 percent; 190,000 jobs lost in October

Nov 6, 2009 14:03 UTC

This is an extraordinarily bad number, and makes this week a 1-2 punch for Democrats. A 10.2 percent jobless rate is the highest since April 1983, even though the labor force participation rate actually dipped a bit. The broader U6 measured surged to 17.5 percent. Recall that 7 quarters of average GDP growth of roughly 7 percent in the 1980s only brought down the unemployment rate by 2 1/2 percentage points. As the Labor Department sums things up:

The unemployment rate rose from 9.8 to 10.2 percent in October, and nonfarm payroll employment continued to decline (-190,000), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The largest job losses over the month were in construction, manufacturing, and retail trade.

In October, the number of unemployed persons increased by 558,000 to 15.7 million. The unemployment rate rose by 0.4 percentage point to 10.2 percent, the highest rate since April 1983. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has risen by 8.2 million, and the unemployment rate has grown by 5.3 percentage points.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) was little changed over the month at 5.6 million. In October, 35.6 percent of unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks or more.

Total nonfarm payroll employment declined by 190,000 in October. In the most recent 3 months, job losses have averaged 188,000 per month, compared with losses averaging 357,000 during the prior 3 months. In contrast, losses averaged 645,000 per month from November 2008 to April 2009. Since December 2007, payroll employment has fallen by 7.3 million.

Construction employment decreased by 62,000 in October. Manufacturing continued to shed jobs (-61,000) in October, with losses in both durable and nondurable goods production. Retail trade lost 40,000 jobs in October.

Health care employment continued to increase in October (29,000). Since the start of the recession, health care has added 597,000 jobs.

Temporary help services has added 44,000 jobs since July, including 34,000 in October.

The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 33.0 hours in October.

In October, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $18.72. Over the past12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.4 percent, while average weekly earnings have risen by only 0.9 percent due to declines in the average workweek.

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for August was revised from -201,000 to -154,000, and the change for September was revised from -263,000 to -219,000.

COMMENT

The job market is definitely a scary place right now. Many job seekers are trying to differentiate themselves from the stiff competition and doing so in creative ways, including printing their resumes on t-shirts and offering vacations to people who can help find them a job. Are outside-the-box ideas like these the wave of the future or a gamble in an already-difficult job market?

http://bit.ly/3tyupy

Obama’s lost year

Nov 5, 2009 17:10 UTC

Rahm Emanuel famously said that you “never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  And certainly the sense of crisis earlier in the year helped the White House pass the $787 billion stimulus package. But where stands the rest of the Obama legislative agenda?

Healthcare. The House will likely pass a bill this weekend, but big difference remain with the Senate, including paying for the plan and what to do about a public option.

Cap-and-trade. Kerry-Boxer is going nowhere which is why Kerry and Graham are working on a a dual-track approach.

Financial regulatory reform. The House and the Senate have completely different notions about what to do about system risk regulation. Plus there may be new efforts to try and “shrink” the banks and limit the scope of future activities.

See you in 2010, Obama Agenda!

COMMENT

Everyone talks about how smart this president is. He is as dumb as a post. Bush didn’t pretend to be the smartest guy on the block. However, this guy Obama does pretend, but only fools people dumber than him like most of the people who elected him and the the DemoRat congress. He is just a hack that parrots things he has learned from his leftist mentors. This man does not have any principles or any original thoughts.

As a black man in America, I hoped that this guy would moderate and succeed. It seems that he is on the way to being a presidential failure because his welfare-state mentality and his weakness on foreign and military policy. He is someone that this black person will not ever respect unless he changes his leftist ways. (Which ain’t going to happen!)

Posted by Jack Smith | Report as abusive

Obamanomics, Big Government, inflation and the price of gold

Nov 5, 2009 14:43 UTC

Ed Yardeni says the rising price of gold is sending a message about the political economy:

Yesterday, I observed that gold tends to be a hedge against reckless governments as measured by their widening deficits and mounting debts. It is also a hedge against governments that either cause or enable inflation to rise. It is interesting to note that:
(1) The price of gold soared from a cyclical low of $104 on August 31, 1976 to a high of $737.5 on January 22, 1980. President Gerald Ford left office in January 1977, near the low for gold. Jimmy Carter was President from 1977 to 1981, when gold soared.
(2) By the time Ronald Reagan left the White House in January 1989, the price of gold was down to $408.3. It fell to $330.9 when George H. W. Bush left Washington.
(3) It continued to drop during Bill Clinton’s two terms, and actually bottomed almost the day George W. Bush moved into the White House.
(4) From then on it was mostly straight up with a brief drop late last year.

Draw your own conclusions, or else, let gold be your guide. Confidence in currencies in general, and the dollar, in particular, was lowest during the Carter and Bush Jr. years, and the first 10 months of the Obama Administration. Confidence was highest during the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton years, when the federal deficit was shrinking and turned into a surplus. During those years, the US government was mostly pro-business, and the public was mostly pleased with the government’s economic policies.

COMMENT

Gold is only one signal among many that informs economic policymakers. When the economy is performing significantly below capacity, when unemployment levels are uncomfortably high and expected to remain so, when the spectre of deflation remains a possibility however slight, why do some OBSESS over the price of gold? The nascent recovery in the economy looks quite fragile thus far, so why take any chance at all of further impeding that recovery by defending the dollar now or reducing deficits now on the altar of blind homage to gold? Yes, gold may well be signaling problems in the future. But we have to survive the present before we even get to that future. So screw gold, let’s get back on the path to sustainable economic growth. Then we’ll be strong enough to respond to what gold may be telling us.

Posted by Bill, Fairfax, VA | Report as abusive
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