May 24, 2019: Weekly Forecasting Update

The right response to almost all economic data releases is: Next to nothing has changed with respect to the forecast—your view of the economic forecast today is different from what it was last week, last month, or three months ago in only minor ways. About the only news these past two weeks is an 0.8%-point decrease in our estimate in what production will be over April-June, driven by a reduction in estimated durable goods orders and capacity utilization. This might be an impact o Trump's trade war.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Nowcasting Report: May 24, 2019: "The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at 1.4% for 2019:Q2. News from this week's data releases decreased the nowcast for 2019:Q2 by 0.4 percentage point. Negative surprises from the Advance Durable Goods Report drove most of the decrease...


Key Points:

Specifically, it is still the case that:

  • The Trump-McConnell-Ryan tax cut:
    • To the extent that it was supposed to boost the American economy by boosting the supply side through increased investment in America, has been a complete failure.
      • To the extent that it was supposed to make America more unequal, has succeeded.
      • Delivered a substantial short-term demand-side fiscal stimulus to growth that has now ebbed.
        • (A 3.2%/year rate of growth of final sales to domestic purchasers over the seven quarters starting in January 2017,
        • pushing the level of Gross National Income up from 2.0%/year from this demand-side stimulus.)
  • U.S. potential economic growth continues to be around 2%/year.
  • There are still no signs the U.S. has entered that phase of the recovery in which inflation is accelerating.
  • There are still no signs of interest rate normalization: secular stagnation continues to reign.
  • There are still no signs the the U.S. is at "overfull employment" in any meaningful sense.

  • A change from 3 months ago: The Federal Reserve's abandonment of its focus on policies that are likely to keep PCE chain inflation at 2%/year or lower does not mean that it is preparing to do anything to avoid or moderate the next recession.

  • Changes from 1 month ago: The U.S. grew at 3.2%/year in the first quarter of 2019—1.6%-points higher than had been nowcast—but the growth number you want to put in your head in assessing the strength of the economy is the 1.6%/year number that had been nowcast. The falling-apart of Trump's trade negotiating strategy with China will harm Americans and may disrupt value chains, and the might be becoming visible in the data flow.

  • A change from 1 week ago: Industrial production appears to be falling as new durable goods orders come in below expectations. Industrial production may have peaked last December:
    Manufacturers New Orders Durable Goods FRED St Louis Fed

  • Over the past 20 years: United States manufacturers are ordering no more in the way of the nominal value of capital goods than they ordered two decades ago. Deflators here are very hazardous, but I believe that translates to a zero increase in real orders as well. This is unprecedented for the U.S. economy: nothing like it has happened before.

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Fairly Recently: Must- and Should-Reads, and Writings... (May 25, 2019)


  1. Rob Beschizza: Reporters Who Quote Ums And Ahs Only Make Themselves Look Bad: "Journalists sometimes use a version of the facts to support faleshoods. Check out the following, posted by Daily Mail reporter David Martosko, quoting a teenager on Trump's use of the racist 'Pocahontas' slur.... Martosko wanted to establish here was that the teen—and perhaps by implication young Warren supporters in general—is confused and foolish. He did this by including all the ums and ahs of speech, filler terms... and extraneous commas. Most people saw this 'verbatim' text for what it was, and Martosko was thoroughly ratioed by readers.... Most of us talk just as the teen did, when challenged to speak extemporaneously. This can be true of even polished and well-prepared speakers. Listen to politicans and pundits on cable news panels, with an ear for the fillers, and you might be surprised.... We don't usually judge speakers for it because our brains correctly interpret it as meaningless filler.... Reporters usually remove speech disfluency when they quote subjects. In fact, it is generally considered unethical and unprofessional for editors not to remove the ums and ahs and filler terms...

  2. Eliza Mackintosh: Finland Is Winning the War on Fake News. Other Nations Want the Blueprint

  3. Julian Matthews: A Cognitive Scientist Explains Why Humans Are So Susceptible to Fake News and Misinformation » Nieman Journalism Lab: "We might like to think of our memory as an archivist that carefully preserves events, but sometimes it’s more like a storyteller...

  4. Andrew Carnegie: Steelmaking: "The eighth wonder of the world is this: two pounds of iron-stone purchased on the shores of lake Superior and transported to Pittsburgh; two pounds of coal mined in Connellsville and manufactured into coke and brought to Pittsburgh; one half pound of limestone mined east of the Alleghenies and brought to Pittsburgh; a little manganese ore, mined in Virginia and brought to Pittsburgh. And these four and one half pounds of material manufactured into one pound of solid steel and sold for one cent. That’s all that need be said about the steel business...

  5. Sam Biddle: Facebook’s Work With Phone Carriers Alarms Legal Experts: "From these eight categories alone, a third party could learn an extraordinary amount about patterns of users’ daily life, and although the document claims that the data collected through the program is 'aggregated and anonymized', academic studies have found time and again that so-called anonymized user data can be easily de-anonymized. Today, such claims of anonymization and aggregation are essentially boilerplate...

  6. Khoi Vinh: ‘John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum’ Review: "A film creates a compelling fantasy world and fans clamor for more. So sequels build that world out, they show more of its mechanics, its people, its history... the inevitable outcome is bureaucracy...

  7. Joe Wiggins: Why Are Other Investors So Biased? | Behavioural Investment: "If you ask a fund manager why they believe that their investment philosophy can generate excess returns, they will almost inevitably state that they are seeking to exploit the behavioural biases exhibited by other investors that create pricing inefficiencies.  It is somewhat puzzling therefore that if you question the same fund manager about how they seek to address their own biases the response is either entirely unconvincing or evasive...

  8. Ben Steverman: The Wealth Detective Who Finds the Hidden Money of the Super Rich: "Thirty-two-year-old French economist Gabriel Zucman scours spreadsheets to find secret offshore accounts...

  9. Arindrajit Dube: Econ 333 : "Income Inequality & Policy Alternatives...

  10. Wikipedia: Barbarian: "The case has been made that [Rosa] Luxemburg had remembered a passage from the Erfurt Program, written in 1892 by Karl Kautsky, and mistakenly attributed it to Engels: 'As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism'...

  11. Douglas B. Harris (1997): Dwight Eisenhower and the New Deal: The Politics of Preemption

  12. Brian Warren: Mac Open Web

  13. Gavin Kennedy (2010): What Adam Smith Actually Identified as the Appropriate Roles for 18-century Governments

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Tremendously depressing. We have a huge problem here. Absolutely brilliant by Alwyn Young on the replication crisis in economics. In empirical practice, instrumental variables appears to be a very weak crutch indeed. this reinforce my judgment that it is almost always better to write down the causal structure, present the correlations, and then provide a map given the correlations and given reasonable assumptions about the possible organization for the causal network from causes to effects: Alwyn Young: Consistency without Inference: Instrumental Variables in Practical Application: "I use Monte Carlo simulations, the jackknife and multiple forms of the bootstrap... 1359 instrumental variables regressions in 31 papers.... Non-iid error processes adversely affect the size and power of IV estimates, while increasing the bias of IV relative to OLS, producing a very low ratio of power to size and mean squared error that is almost always larger than biased OLS. Weak instrument pre-tests based upon F-statistics are found to be largely uninformative.... Statistically significant IV results generally depend upon only one or two observations or clusters, excluded instruments often appear to be irrelevant, there is little statistical evidence that OLS is biased, and IV confidence intervals almost always include OLS point estimates...

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Over at Equitable Growth. From last March: The brilliant Bhash Mazumder in conversation with Liz Hipple. He is right in his stress on siblings as an excellent test strip for measuring and understanding inequality in one easy-to-calculate number: Liz Hipple: In Conversation with Bhash Mazumder: "The sibling approach... boils everything down into one number by saying, what are all of the things that two siblings shared growing up? How much does that determine their overall outcomes?... That’s an important measure that we haven’t studied a lot. In the United States, there has been some research on sibling correlations, which I’ve contributed to a little bit, that suggests there’s much less intergenerational mobility in U.S. society than in other countries.... There is something about the nature of our society causing family background characteristics to strongly influence children’s long-run outcomes, thereby reinforcing inequalities...

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Brussels takes control

Chris Cook: Brussels Takes Control: "The EU’s initial response to the referendum result said: 'Any agreement, which will be concluded with the United Kingdom as a third country, will have to reflect the interests of both sides and be balanced in terms of rights and obligations'. A few days on, it added: 'Access to the single market requires acceptance of all four freedoms'. This reflects a belief in what the EU is actually for. Those who know her have learned that when Merkel, who grew up on the far side of the Iron Curtain, says freedom of movement of people is a fundamental principle, it pays to take her seriously.... The statement was also intended to ram home the basic principle that the EU insists rights be balanced by obligations.... This has created fixed grooves that third countries must fall into. In return for unfettered access to its internal markets, they have to tick certain boxes. When the UK Treasury modelled possible outcomes of the Brexit negotiations before the referendum, it presented a discreet menu of options... Switzerland’s... Turkey’s... Canada’s... found the same likely range of options. This formula–'no cherry-picking'–was most clearly set out in a diagram released to modest fanfare in late 2017 by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. It became known as the 'staircase' diagram:

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Rosa Luxemburg (1916): The Junius Pamphlet: "In the midst of this witches’ sabbath a catastrophe of world-historical proportions has happened: International Social Democracy has capitulated. To deceive ourselves about it, to cover it up, would be the most foolish, the most fatal thing the proletariat could do.... The fall of the socialist proletariat in the present world war is unprecedented. It is a misfortune for humanity. But socialism will be lost only if the international proletariat fails to measure the depth of this fall, if it refuses to learn from it. The last forty-five year period in the development of the modern labor movement now stands in doubt. What we are experiencing in this critique is a closing of accounts for what will soon be half a century of work at our posts...

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Language, opposable thumbs, and erect posture—those are the three keys to the kingdom: Doug Jones: Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better: "With Ardipithecus Radius (about 4.5 million years ago) we have the strongest evidence so far that hominins have adopted bipedalism.... Even... she had a somewhat diverging big toe, and arms and hands well-adapted for suspension, suggesting she was bipedal on the ground, but still spent a lot of time in trees.... Bipedalism allowed ancestral dinosaurs to overcome the tight coupling of locomotion and respiration that prevents sprawling lizards from breathing while they run. But human bipedalism, with no counterbalancing tail, is different. As far as we know it evolved only once...

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Rosa Luxemburg (1916): The Junius Pamphlet: "The Crisis of Social Democracy.... Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of mankind. For this reason, Friedrich Engels designated the final victory of the socialist proletariat a leap of humanity from the animal world into the realm of freedom.... Friedrich Engels once said: 'Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism'. What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization?... This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization..... We face the choice... either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration–a great cemetery...

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Dwight D. Eisenhower (1954): Letter to Edgar Newton Eisenhower: Weekend Reading

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1954): Letter to Edgar Newton Eisenhower: "The Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid...


John Maynard Keynes (1926): From "The End of Laissez-Faire": Weekend Reading

School of Athens

John Maynard Keynes (1926): from The end of Laissez-Faire: "The early nineteenth century... harmonised the conservative individualism of Locke, Hume, Johnson, and Burke with the socialism and democratic egalitarianism of Rousseau, Paley, Bentham, and Godwin.... The idea of a divine harmony between private advantage and the public good is already apparent in Paley. But it was the economists who gave the notion a good scientific basis.... To the philosophical doctrine that the government has no right to interfere, and the divine that it has no need to interfere, there is added a scientific proof that its interference is inexpedient.... The principle of laissez-faire had arrived to harmonise individualism and socialism.... The political philosopher could retire in favour of the business man.... Thus the ground was fertile for a doctrine that, whether on divine, natural, or scientific grounds, state action should be narrowly confined and economic life left, unregulated so far as may be, to the skill and good sense of individual citizens actuated by the admirable motive of trying to get on in the world.... By the time that the influence of Paley and his like was waning, the innovations of Darwin were shaking the foundations of belief..... Survival of the fittest could be regarded as a vast generalisation of the Ricardian economics. Socialist interferences became, in the light of this grander synthesis, not merely inexpedient, but impious, as calculated to retard the onward movement of the mighty process by which we ourselves had risen like Aphrodite out of the primeval slime of ocean...

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Martin Wolf: The US-China Conflict Challenges The World: "Historic allies of the US... would stand beside it..... Yet these are not normal circumstances. Under Donald Trump, the US has become a rogue superpower, hostile, among many other things, to the fundamental norms of a trading system based on multilateral agreement and binding rules.... We are also seeing a big shift in conservative thinking.... The US no longer sees why it should be a 'responsible stakeholder'.... Some might conclude that the high costs mean that the conflict cannot be sustained, particularly if stock markets are disrupted. An alternative and more plausible outcome is that Mr Trump and China’s Xi Jinping are 'strongmen' leaders who cannot be seen to yield...

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Adam Smith: An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth Of Nations: "The first duty of the sovereign... protecting the society from... other independent societies... by means of a military force.... The second duty... of protecting... every member... from the injustice or oppression of every other member.... The third... of erecting and maintaining... institutions and... public works... in the highest degree advantageous... [but] of such a nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual, or small number of individuals.... [These] works and institutions... are chiefly for facilitating the commerce of the society, and... promoting the instruction of the people.... Of the public Works and Institutions for facilitating the Commerce of the Society.... Of the Expense of the Institution for the Education of Youth.... Of the Expense of the Institutions for the Instruction of People of all Ages... chiefly those for religious instruction...

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Gavin Kennedy: What Adam Smith Actually Identified as the Appropriate Roles for 18-Century Governments: "Navigation Acts, blessed by Smith under the assertion that ‘defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence’ (WN464); Sterling marks on plate and stamps on linen and woollen cloth (WN138–9); enforcement of contracts by a system of justice (WN720); wages to be paid in money, not goods; regulations of paper money in banking (WN437)...

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Historical Nonfarm Unemployment Statistics

Historical Nonfarm Unemployment Statistics: An updated graph that Claudia Goldin had me make two and a half decades ago. The nonfarm unemployment rate since 1869:

2016 04 05 Historical Nonfarm Unemployment Estimates numbers

Then it was 1890-1990, now it is 1869-2015, thanks to:

  • J.R. Vernon (1994):
  • C.D. Romer (1986):
  • BLS (2015):

with spreadsheet at:

The assumption–debateable–is that “unemployment” is not a farm thing–that in the rural south or in the midwest or on the prairie you can always find a place of some sort as a hired hand, and that “unemployment” is a town- and city-based nonfarm phenomenon.

I confess I do not understand how anyone can look at this series and think that calculating stable and unchanging autocorrelations and innovation variances is a reasonable first-cut thing to do.

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Another old piece, but more true than ever. On the left, the talking heads the media puts on the TV as economists are economists. On the right, they are grifters who play economists on TV. My recent encounter with Steve Moore at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club has erased any doubts I might have had:

Paul Krugman (2015): On Econoheroes: "I gather that some readers didn’t get what I was driving at in declaring that Joe Stiglitz and yours truly are the left’s 'econoheroes', but the likes of Stephen Moore and Art Laffer play that role on the right.... What I meant—I thought this was obvious—is that Joe and I do tend to get quoted, invoked, etc. on a frequent basis in liberal media and by liberals in general, usually with (excessive) approbation. And the thing is that while there are people playing a comparable role in right-wing discussion, they tend not to be highly cited or even competent...

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Ben Thompson: China, Leverage, and Values: "Tim Culpan declared at Bloomberg that The Tech Cold War Has Begun.... 'We can now expect China to redouble efforts to roll out a homegrown smartphone operating system, design its own chips, develop its own semiconductor technology (including design tools and manufacturing equipment), and implement its own technology standards. This can only accelerate the process of creating a digital iron curtain that separates the world into two distinct, mutually exclusive technological spheres...

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Fairly Recently: Must- and Should-Reads, and Writings... (May 21, 2019)


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Robo-Apocalypse? Not in Your Lifetime: Live at Project Syndicate

Robo Apocalypse Not in Your Lifetime by J Bradford DeLong Project Syndicate

Live at Project Syndicate: Robo-Apocalypse? Not in Your Lifetime: "Will the imminent “rise of the robots” threaten all future human employment? The most thoughtful discussion of that question can be found in MIT economist David H. Autor’s 2015 paper, “Why Are There Still so Many Jobs?”, which considers the problem in the context of Polanyi’s Paradox. Given that “we can know more than we can tell,” the twentieth-century philosopher Michael Polanyi observed, we shouldn’t assume that technology can replicate the function of human knowledge itself. Just because a computer can know everything there is to know about a car doesn’t mean it can drive it. This distinction between tacit knowledge and information bears directly on the question of what humans will be doing to produce economic value in the future... Read MOAR at Project Syndicate

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:I. W. Gabriel Selassie: Abram Lincoln Harris Jr. (1899-1963): "Abram Lincoln Harris, Jr., the grandson of slaves, was the first nationally recognized black economist... a Marxist.... The Black Worker was recognized as the foundation for future economic histories and assessments of the black condition. The Negro as Capitalist argued that non-racial economic reforms were the key to solving black fiscal woes. He also argued that capitalism was morally bankrupt and that employing race consciousness as a strategic way to enlighten a public was self-defeating.  W.E.B. DuBois described Harris as one of the 'Young Turks' who challenged the then existing historical theories about blacks in a capitalist society while insisting upon using modern social scientific methods to further his analyses of African American life...

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Abram L. Harris (1961): Countervailing Power, Monopoly, and Public Polic: "Combine theoretical analysis in a survey of the ideas of some leading economists who have dealt with the problem of market imperfections and monopoly along with discussions of the early trust movement.... A technical mastery of theoretical economics is not a prerequisite. One main purpose of the course is to stimulate undergraduate interest in theoretical economics, the history of economic ideas, and the relation of these ideas to current economic policy issues. The course should be open to beginning majors in economics, students who are undecided about a major in the social sciences, and to those who are just curious.... The Concept of “Countervailing Power”: Old wine in new bottles? Chamberlain... Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Alfred Marshall.... John Bates Clarke and his student, Thorstein Veblen.... The Standard Oil and U. S. Steel cases and federal anti-trust legislation. Recent anti-trust cases: administrative interpretation and application of federal legislation. Marx’s thesis concerning industrial concentration.... The extent and measurement of industrial concentration.... A term essay will be required of all students who take the course for credit. The essay may take the form of a review, e.g., Berle’s Twentieth Century Capitalist Revolution, Mason’s The Corporation in Modern Society, Chamberlain’s Labor Union Monopoly or may deal with some topic... selected by the student in consultation.... P.S. The content of the course may appear be heavy and, probably, cannot be entirely covered in a single quarter. The layout will have, no doubt, to be tailored as we proceed to give the course for the first time...


Irwin Collier: Chicago. Monopoly Course Proposal by Abram Harris with George Stigler's (Dis)approval, 1961: "[TO:] Al Rees, Chairman [DEPARTMENT:] Economics [FROM:] George J. Stigle [IN RE:] propose 200 level course in the College by Abram L. Harris. Dear Al: This new course of Abe Harris arouses no enthusiasm on my part. It sounds like a protracted bull session, in which large ideas are neither carefully analysed nor empirically tested. Even if this is a correct prediction, it leaves open the question of our listing it. Abe is a nice guy, only about 3 years from retirement, and it serves no good purpose to hurt his feelings. My own inclination would be (1) to list it, with explicit proviso that it is only for as long as he teaches it, and (2) advise our majors to forget it...

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Graydon: "If you're an authoritarian, you want people to do what you say...

...You necessarily hate this fact-checking, quantified analysis stuff, and you want to make sure anybody who tries that shit winds up starving in a ditch somewhere. People are supposed to do what you say, not waste time and money producing creative excuses. There are no legitimate excuses. You do what you are told to do, whatever it takes. Nothing is important except getting it done and admitting the boss was right.

I sometimes wonder if academia suffers terribly from not having to work for that person.

I mean, yeah, you don't want to work for that person, and you really don't, in a social-health systemic-utility sense, want that person in charge of anything ever, but all the academic analysis I see doesn't believe in that person, and they're ubiquitous. They make a lot of decisions, about the economy and people's lives. They mostly succeed with the starving-in-a-ditch part, too...

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Against Raj Chetty et al.'s belief that school quality—rather than the fabric of society—is a key mechanism creating and blocking possibilities for upward mobility: Jesse Rothstein (2017): Inequality of Educational Opportunity? Schools as Mediators of the Intergenerational Transmission of Income: "Commuting zones (CZs) with stronger intergenerational income transmission tend to have stronger transmission of parental income...

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Scott Alexander: Who By Very Slow Decay: "After a while of this, your doctors will call a meeting with your family and very gingerly raise the possibility of going to 'comfort care only', which means they disconnect the machines and stop the treatments and put you on painkillers so that you die peacefully. Your family will start yelling at the doctors, asking how the hell these quacks were ever allowed to practice when for God’s sake they’re trying to kill off Grandma just so they can avoid doing a tiny bit of work. They will demand the doctors find some kind of complicated surgery that will fix all your problems, add on new pills to the thirteen you’re already being force-fed every day, call in the most expensive consultants from Europe, figure out some extraordinary effort that can keep you living another few days...

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