Journalist Zaid Jilani weighs in on the controversy over the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project that caused a fundamental disagreement over the trajectory of American history between scholars and the authors of The New York Times Magazine’s issue on slavery.
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“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” says a top former economic adviser to Obama.
In early April, Jason Furman, a top economist in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard, was speaking via Zoom to a large bipartisan group of top officials from both parties. The economy had just been shut down, unemployment was spiking and some policymakers were predicting an era worse than the Great Depression. The economic carnage seemed likely to doom President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection.
Furman, tapped to give the opening presentation, looked into his screen of poorly lit boxes of frightened wonks and made a startling claim.
“We are about to see the best economic data we’ve seen in the history of this country,” he said.
The former Cabinet secretaries and Federal Reserve chairs in the Zoom boxes were confused, though some of the Republicans may have been newly relieved and some of the Democrats suddenly concerned.
“Everyone looked puzzled and thought I had misspoken,” Furman said in an interview. Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever.
Since the Zoom call, Furman has been making the same case to anyone who will listen, especially the close-knit network of Democratic wonks who have traversed the Clinton and Obama administrations together, including top members of the Biden campaign.
Furman’s counterintuitive pitch has caused some Democrats, especially Obama alumni, around Washington to panic. “This is my big worry,” said a former Obama White House official who is still close to the former president. Asked about the level of concern among top party officials, he said, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”
And top policy officials on the Biden campaign are preparing for a fall economic debate that might look very different than the one predicted at the start of the pandemic in March. “They are very much aware of this,” said an informal adviser.
Furman’s case begins with the premise that the 2020 pandemic-triggered economic collapse is categorically different than the Great Depression or the Great Recession, which both had slow, grinding recoveries.
Instead, he believes, the way to think about the current economic drop-off, at least in the first two phases, is more like what happens to a thriving economy during and after a natural disaster: a quick and steep decline in economic activity followed by a quick and steep rebound.
The Covid-19 recession started with a sudden shuttering of many businesses, a nationwide decline in consumption and massive increase in unemployment. But starting around April 15, when economic reopening started to spread but the overall numbers still looked grim, Furman noticed some data that pointed to the kind of recovery that economists often see after a hurricane or industrywide catastrophe like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Consumption and hiring started to tick up “in gross terms, not in net terms,” Furman said, describing the phenomenon as a “partial rebound.” The bounce back “can be very very fast, because people go back to their original job, they get called back from furlough, you put the lights back on in your business. Given how many people were furloughed and how many businesses were closed you can get a big jump out of that. It will look like a V.”
Furman’s argument is not that different from the one made by White House economic advisers and Trump, who have predicted an explosive third quarter, and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who said in late April that “the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again.” White House officials were thrilled to hear that some of their views have been endorsed by prominent Democrats.
“I totally agree,” Larry Kudlow, head of the White House National Economic Council, replied in a text message when asked about Furman’s analysis. “Q3 may be the single best GDP quarter since regular data. 2nd half super big growth, transitioning to 4% or more in 2021.” He called Furman, whom he said he knows well, “usually a straight shooter. Hats off to him.”
“I have been saying that on TV as well,” said Kevin Hassett, a top Trump economic adviser, who pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis predicting a 21.5 percent annualized growth rate in the third quarter. “If CBO is correct we will see the strongest quarter in history after the weakest in Q2.”
Peter Navarro, a Trump trade and manufacturing adviser who’s a Harvard-educated economist, called the high unemployment America is currently facing “manufactured unemployment, which is to say that Americans are out of work not because of any underlying economic weaknesses but to save American lives. It is this observation that gives us the best chance and hope for a relatively rapid recovery as the economy reopens.”
(Asked about his new fans in the White House, Furman responded, “They get the rebound part, but they don’t get the partial part.”)
A rebound won’t mean that Trump has solved many underlying problems. Since the crisis started, many employers have gone bankrupt. Others have used the pandemic to downsize. Consumption and travel will likely remain lower. Millions of people in industries like hospitality and tourism will need to find new jobs in new industries.
The scenario would be a major long-term problem for any president. But before that reality sets in, Trump could be poised to benefit from the dramatic numbers produced during the partial rebound phase that is likely to coincide with the four months before November.
That realization has many Democrats spooked.
“In absolute terms, the economy will look historically terrible come November,” said Kenneth Baer, a Democratic strategist who worked in a senior role at the Office of Management and Budget under Obama. “But relative to the depths of April, it will be on an upswing — 12 percent unemployment, for example, is better than 20, but historically terrible. On Election Day, we Democrats need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ Republicans need voters to ask themselves, ‘Are you better off than you were four months ago?’”
One progressive Democratic operative pointed out that recent polling, taken during the nadir of the crisis, shows Joe Biden is struggling to best Trump on who is more trusted to handle the economy. “Trump beats Biden on the economy even right now!” he said. “This is going to be extremely difficult no matter what. It’s existential that we figure it out. In any of these economic scenarios Democrats are going to have to win the argument that our public health and economy are much worse off because of Donald Trump’s failure of leadership.”
The former Obama White House official said, “Even today when we are at over 20 million unemployed Trump gets high marks on the economy, so I can’t imagine what it looks like when things go in the other direction. I don’t think this is a challenge for the Biden campaign. This is the challenge for the Biden campaign. If they can’t figure this out they should all just go home.”
The Biden campaign seems to recognize the challenge. “The way that Biden talks about the economy is not just tied to the Covid crisis, it’s also about the things that Donald Trump has done to undermine working people since the day he took office,” said Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager. “But secondly, it’s also highly likely that under any economic circumstances in the fall, Trump is likely going to be the first modern president to preside over net job loss.”
Between now and Election Day, there will be five monthly jobs reports, which are released on the first Friday of every month. The June report, covering May, is likely to show another increase in unemployment. But after that, Furman predicts, if reopening continues apace, the next four reports could be blockbusters. “You could easily have 1 to 2 million jobs created a month in those four reports before November,” he said.
He added, “And then toward the end of October, we will get GDP growth for the third quarter, at an annualized rate, and it could be double-digit positive economic growth. So these will be the best jobs and growth numbers ever.
Furman noted that there is one major obvious caveat: “If there’s a second wave of the virus and a really serious set of lockdowns, I wouldn’t expect to see this. But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out.”
When Obama ran for reelection in 2012, during the recovery from the Great Recession, he was able to point out that the unemployment rate was dropping about 1 point every year. But in a V-shaped recovery it would be much faster. “The Trump argument will be he’s producing the fastest job growth and fastest economic growth in history. If he has any ability to do nuance he would say, ‘We are not there yet, reelect me to finish the job,’” Furman said. “The Biden argument will be the unemployment rate is still 12 percent and even with those millions of jobs we are still down 15 million jobs and the only way for this to be fixed is new economic policies.”
Austan Goolsbee, a predecessor to Furman as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama White House, said the recovery would be more like a reverse check mark, rather than a V, and that Biden and Democrats would need to point out that the explosive numbers predicted for the late summer and fall will not erase all of the damage.
“I view it as Trump left the door open and five rats came into the kitchen and you’re going to brag, ‘Look I got two of the rats out?’” Goolsbee said. “There’s a high risk you look completely out of touch if you still have double-digit unemployment rates.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close to Biden, said he’s been studying numerous economic forecasts and isn’t convinced a V-shaped rebound is certain. “It seems pretty unlikely to me that we’re going to have a really robust recovery in the next few months,” he said. “Of course, we all hope there will be. Frankly, no matter what the recovery looks like, I expect President Trump to either take credit for things he had nothing to do with or to avoid blame for things he helped cause.”
Furman is an economist, but he had some strategic advice for the Biden campaign. “Don’t make predictions that could be falsified. There are enough terrible things to say you don’t need to make exaggerated predictions,” he said. “The argument that we are in another Great Depression will look like it was overstated. Trump can say, ‘Two million deaths didn’t happen, Great Depression didn’t happen, we are making a lot of progress.’”
@RaoulGMI identified the following factors contributing to a crisis, before Coronavirus:
- Stocks: Largest Equity Bubble of All Time: (Pension Crisis & Buyback Bubble)
- Largest Retiree Wave, all wanting to sell stocks and bonds at the same time
- Millennials are too poor and indebted (make 20% less than parents)
- Corporate Credit: Largest Credit Bubble of All Time
- ($10 Trillion + Off balance Sheet = 75% of GDP)
- Student Loan Bubble:
- $1.6 Trillion
- Auto Loan Bubble
- ($1.2 Trillion)
- Indexation Bubble
- ETF/Market Structure Bubble
- Foreign Borrowings (Dollar Standard Bubble)
- Monetary Policy Bubble (The Central Bank Bubble)
- EU Banking Crisis
- why they hired Christine Lagarde, for her political negotiating skills to deal with the nationalization of the European banks (which are facing insolvency) not for her economic or financial skills
- A Trade War:
- The Trade Wars “shattered” supply chains
- Largest Supply & Demand Shocks of all Time
Central Banks have been fighting for the last 20 years:
- Full Scale Debt Deflation and a Solvency Crisis
- A loss of confidence in the Dollar Standard and the Entire Financial Architecture
The problem goes much deeper than Trump or tariffs.
Global markets were seized by fear last week that trade wars were slowing growth in Germany, China and the United States. But the story here is bigger than President Trump and his tariffs.
The postwar miracle is over. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the world economy has been struggling against four headwinds:
- deglobalization of trade,
- depopulation as labor forces shrink,
- declining productivity and a
- debt burden as high now as it was right before the crisis.
No major economy is growing as fast as it was before 2008. Not one is growing faster than 10 percent, the rate experienced by the Asian “miracle economies” before the crisis. In almost every country, the national discussion focuses on what must be done to revive growth and ignores the fact that the slowdown is driven by forces beyond any one government’s control. Instead of dooming ourselves to serial disappointment and fruitless stimulus campaigns, we need to redefine economic success and failure.
Germany is one of at least five major economies on the verge of a recession, which is typically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. But the real issue is whether that definition still makes sense in a country with a shrinking labor force like Germany’s.
Its working population has been declining for years and is expected to fall to 47 million from 54 million by 2039. And it’s not alone in this. Forty-six countries around the world — including major powers like Japan, Russia and China — now have shrinking populations.
Demographics are usually the main driver of economic growth, so it is basically inevitable that these countries will now grow at a much slower pace. And we are not talking about minor population declines. Projections for 2040 show China’s working-age population falling by 114 million, Japan’s by 14 million. With a shrinking labor force, these economies will inevitably slow and, at times, contract. To keep calling two negative quarters in a row a “recession” implies that this outcome is somehow abnormal or unhealthy. That will no longer be the case.
To avoid overreacting, the discussion about economic health needs to shift to measures that better capture satisfaction and contentment, like per capita income growth. In countries with shrinking populations, per capita incomes can continue to grow so long as the economy is shrinking less rapidly than the population. This helps explain why, for example, Japan isn’t facing more social unrest. Its economy has grown much more slowly than that of the United States in this decade, but because the population is shrinking its per capita income has grown just as fast as America’s — around 1.5 percent per year.
Shrinking populations also help explain why unemployment is at or near multi-decade lows, even in countries with serious growth worries, like Germany and Japan. Gainfully employed Germans and Japanese won’t really feel as if their countries are in a slump until per capita G.D.P. growth turns negative — which may prove to be a more useful way to think about recessions in this new era.
The definition of success also needs to change. Many emerging countries still aspire to the double-digit growth rates experienced by what were known as the “Asian miracle economies” from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, when populations and trade were booming. But no economy had grown so fast before then, and as population and trade surges recede, it’s unlikely any country can repeat those feats.
As growth downshifts, even little miracles are disappearing. Before the 2010s, it was common for one in every five economies to be growing at 7 percent or more annually. Now, among the world’s 200 economies, just eight, or one in 25, are on track to grow 7 percentthis year. Most of those are small economies in Africa.
When the news emerged that China’s economy had slowed to just 6 percent, a new low, many investors and analysts rang the alarm bells. But the reality is that economies rarely grow as fast as 6 percent if the population is not booming too. Not only did China’s working-age population growth turn negative in 2016, but it is one of the countries hardest hit by slumping trade, declining productivity and heavy debts. If the Chinese economy really were growing at 6 percent in this environment, it would be cause for celebration, not alarm.
The benchmark for rapid growth should come down to 5 percent for emerging countries, to between and 3 and 4 percent for middle-income countries like China, and to between 1 and 2 percent for developed economies like the United States, Germany and Japan. And that should just be the start to how economists and investors redefine economic success.
This rethink is overdue. The number of countries with shrinking populations is expected to rise to 67 from 46 by 2040, and the decline in productivity growth is in many ways reinforced by heavy debt burdens and rising trade barriers. Redefining the standard of economic success could help cure many countries of irrational anxieties about “slow” growth, and make the world a calmer place.
Mark Blyth’s best seller Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea https://amzn.to/2Lcw556 Mark Blyth is a British political scientist from Scotland and a professor of international political economy at Brown University.37:43here’s a story when they did the Podestaemail Hawks when they got the Democratsemails somebody took the data fromWikiLeaks and decided it was called geolocate the data in other words what werethe place names that the leadingDemocrats who are the last part of hermentor represent all of us rememberright not the elite Republicans whatwere the police names that he talkedabout and their private communicationsand their selection what was the numberone most frequently named place in theircommunications can you guess have aguess Martha Martha’s Vineyard yeahnumber two Eastern Southampton then NewYork then San Francisco then I think itwas Ellie in DC and the rest of thecountry two standard deviations out sowhat’s the imaginary of a party thisseeks to represent all if that’s all theplaces did they talk about becausethat’s where the money is and it’s notjust to castigate the Democrats theBritish Labour Party was like this underblare of the German SPD under shorterit’s done that’s the left issystematically failed the people that itsupposedly represents so why should webe in the least surprised that theydefect and then go to any one at allthat actually says here I know thateveryone’s ignored you for 25 years I atleast hear the fact that you’re cryingand I understand why people’s everydayexperience is very different from anational average walking out and tellingpeople that the price of iPods hasfallen which means that really they’vegot more money than they think at a timewhen they can’t afford to send theirkids to college or their kids would beinsane to take on that much debt becauseit’s like having a house with no ASSAit’s just parts on izing and the exampleof immigration occupied to that one it’svery different depending on where youliveimmigration to me is another person fromanother interesting country who has aphd but that’s what it means where Ilive right but that’s because I’m in thetop 20% if you’re living in publichousing in France right and thoseresources are been finite and thoseresources are being cut and you’re theones are confronted with incrediblydifferent cultures coming and notintegrating with you taking theresources from you at least as youperceive it and that’s what’s beennarrated by the National Front don’texpect them not to make end roadsbecause it gels with everybody’s commonsense regardless of whether we can saywell on average and migrants benefit theeconomy no one lives in an average nowthe problem here now close with us is.. prompted the following response I thinkthe election of Trump has been good forclimate change because it stops the restof the world waiting around for Americato solve the problemso if the gentleman’s and the Chinesenow get together and do technologgreentech bring it to scale China forexample has installed more solar in thepast few years in the United States hasright if they end up doing that we’rethe suckers because we should have beenleading the investment we’ll be buyingit from thembut in a way if that forces them to dothat and that’s good in a global sensego for it so does that mean Trump was agood leader in that regard well that’s adifferent question right but it can havea positive effect so the mark like let’snot summit all up to you know the oneleader the genius the charisma whateverthe doesn’t that’s not good we arethinking about it they can’t make adifference but the key thing is whenthey’ve actually got the trust ofeverybody who’s who wants them to leadthat’s when societies work better butwhen you have leaders who are divisivewho pet people against each other Inever walk so for anybody that’s thetype of populism you want to avoid all
An old line about war says that amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics. A similar line about the economy would be that amateurs talk about stocks, but professionals study the bond market. And lately the bond market is telling a tale of profound pessimism.
Why does the bond market reflect economic expectations? If investors expect a boom, they also expect the Fed to try to rein in the boom by raising short-term interest rates (which it more or less directly controls), to head off potential inflation. The prospect of higher short-term rates then leads to higher long-term rates, because nobody wants to lock money in at a low yield if returns are going up. Conversely, if investors expect a slump, they expect the Fed to cut rates, and pile into long-term bonds to lock in returns while they can.
So the slump in long-term yields since last fall, from a peak of 3.2 percent to just 1.63 percent this morning, says that investors have grown drastically less sanguine about the economy. Long-term rates are now notably lower than short-term rates — and this kind of “yield curve inversion” has in the past consistently been the precursor to recession:
Ominous yieldsFederal Reserve of St. Louis
Bond investors could, of course, be wrong — there are some people out there claiming that we’re in a bond bubble. And so far the real economy, as measured by G.D.P., job growth, and all that, is still chugging along. But as I said, there’s clearly a wave of pessimism sweeping the market. What’s it about?
One answer is that last fall many investors were looking at a couple of quarters of high growth, and thinking that this might be the start of an extended boom. Serious economists warned that this growth was a temporary lift — a “sugar high” — driven by the shift from fiscal austerity to what-me-worry deficit finance. But at least some people bought into the Trumpist line that tax cuts were going to produce an enduring rise in the growth rate.
At the same time, Trump’s trade war may be starting to take a toll. In particular, the uncertainty may be deterring business spending. Whether new tariffs would hurt or help your business, it now makes sense to hold off on plans to expand, until you see what he actually does.
Finally, economic troubles in the rest of the world — several major European economies are quite possibly in recession — are filtering back to the U.S.
Now, most economists aren’t predicting a recession here, for good reason. The truth is that nobody is very good at calling turning points in the economy, and calling a recession before it’s really obvious in the data is much more likely to get you declared a Chicken Little than hailed as a prophet. (Believe me, I know all about it.) But the bond market, which doesn’t worry about such things, is looking remarkably grim. I leave the possible political implications as an exercise for all of you.