30 October 2017

Two Urgent Questions The Media Isn't Asking About Trump's Collusion

Some facts:
  • Today Trump's campaign manager was indicted and a campaign adviser to Trump plead guilty to lying to the FBI about a contact with ties to the Kremlin.
  • The Kremlin definitely meddled in the 2016 election, working to help Trump beat Clinton. 
  • Russians invested heavily in Trump's business after his bankruptcies.
  • The Trump campaign changed Republican policy to eliminate support for the Ukraine in their battle against Russia over Crimea and other territory.
  • Trump has attacked and criticized fellow Republicans, former allies, even his own staff but has never spoken negatively against Putin.
  • Trump's son and son-in-law and key officials met with Russians to discuss compromising information on Hillary Clinton shortly before Clinton emails were released by the Russians during the campaign.

It is plausible that Trump colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election.

It is not too soon to ask two really big questions, questions that will have to be addressed if speculation about Trump stealing the presidency prove true.

If Trump is found guilty of colluding to hijack a presidential election,

Who should then assume the presidency? 
1. Vice President Pence? 
The problem with this is that Pence is only VP because of Trump's victory. If Trump's victory is invalid, so is Pence's claim to replace him.

2. Hillary Clinton?
The obvious argument here is the Olympic's argument: if the gold medal winner has cheated then the official winner is now the silver medal winner. There are so many obvious problems and complications with this that one hardly knows where to start. Suffice to say that it is unprecedented. Suffice to say that a candidate colluding with a foreign power to steal the presidency is also unprecedented.

3. Barack Obama?
The allure of this is that it would return the presidency to the last fairly elected person, and return the presidency to someone obviously experienced in the job and able to quickly take over. Obama could hold office while a new election was called and Americans chose a new president. This is unprecedented within the US but not within countries where elections have obviously been tampered with. (And obviously raises dozens of important questions about how to create a presidential election outside the normal election cycle, or even whether such an election should be arranged or if the replacement for Trump should be allowed to serve the term through 2020.)

4. Paul Ryan?
This makes sense because order of succession gives the speaker the White House in the event that the president and vice president are unable to serve. It also has the obvious problems that Pence has in that it would award the presidency to the party whose head stole the presidency.

5. Joe Biden?
Far fetched but would answer the rebuttal to Obama taking the office after serving 2 terms.

Should all of Trump's executive orders and judicial and cabinet appointments be automatically rescinded?

For instance, would Supreme Court Gorsuch lose his seat? Would any legislation signed by Trump automatically be deemed invalid?

The American people are unprepared for any of these answers. The polarization that we already see in media coverage and arguments could actually escalate into violence if Pence or Obama (or any of the others mentioned above) replace Trump and yet such options are really the only options we have. This can hardly be stressed enough: any option will be unacceptable to many - perhaps most - Americans.

A responsible media would begin processing what is next right now. If it works out that Trump did not collude and is not going to be impeached or resign, then fine. The media exploring these questions would have only explored some fascinating options in a fascinating year. If it works out that Trump did collude and thus cannot hold the office he stole, there will be no such thing as too much time for Americans to work through what has to happen next.

26 October 2017

Two Simple Policy Goals

Maybe I'm simple minded but I don't think that policy has to be terribly complex.  

A great test of your economic policy is how easily someone can start a new business that has a legitimate chance of creating wealth and jobs.

A great test of your social policy is how easily a single mom can raise a child who has a legitimate chance to be happy and productive.

Doing well on those tests is not trivial. If you are successful at popularizing entrepreneurship you have a great education system, easy access to capital markets that are well regulated and reward people who invest well and punish people who abuse investors or borrowers, and stable, predictable laws around property and wealth. Your culture embraces disruption and protects losers enough that your community has little resistance to new companies, technologies and industries and welcomes change. You have things like universal healthcare so that would-be entrepreneurs face less risk when they take on the risk of a new business. Your culture sees social invention and product invention the same way: you keep improving what you have and looking for new ways to reach old goals more effectively, whether that goal is to store fresh food for longer like a fridge now does (and like some other technology may do in the future) or create meaning and community like a church now does (and like some new social invention may do in the future). 

If you are successful at making it easy for every parent to raise a child, this again has many policy implications. People have easy access to birth control and abortion so that they can easily control when they become a parent. Maternity and paternity leave is generous without penalizing companies that employ young people who are more likely to be starting careers and families. Childcare is affordable. Jobs can be customized. (The Netherlands has brought birthrates back up by offering more flexible job options: many parents (mostly mothers) work part-time.) You have a vigorous defense of the environment, minimizing the probability that children will be exposed to threats that might not show up for decades.

Rather than penalize entrepreneurs who would create jobs and wealth by making them jump through hoops,or ignoring the fact that their educational needs are just as real as those who would pursue a vocation or white-collar job, the community should make it easier for them in a host of ways, from mentoring programs to bureaucratic aides to help them through necessary legal, financial and regulatory hoops. Rather than penalize young mothers who would raise up the next generation of workers and citizens, the community should make it easier for them in a host of ways, from mentoring programs to childcare along with logistical and emotional support to help them through the various challenges of parenting.

If your mothers are raising the children they aspire to raise, you'll have an emotionally whole and productive citizenry. If your entrepreneurs are creating the businesses they aspire to, you'll have steadily rising wealth and income and strong job markets that enable the community to finance personal things like fine meals and communal things like beautiful parks and good roads. If you focus on making life easier for single mothers and entrepreneurs you will automatically make it easier for two-parent families and no children families. If you focus on making it easier for entrepreneurs, you will automatically make it easier for employees and investors.

The policy implications of these two goals - the various programs and initiatives that would help further us towards these goals - could be continually enhanced by - among other things - running focus groups with real and aspiring entrepreneurs and real or aspiring single moms. Asking them what would make them more successful, what obstacles and frustrations the have, what their needs are and sorts of resources they need would help to inform policies that could make a difference. Tracking the efficacy of these policy initiatives to determine what makes the most difference for the least time and money could be used as further feedback about which policies to continue and which to let die. With these two goals, a community could continuously experiment to see how best to achieve them. It's hard to imagine how such policy experiments wouldn't make the community better for everyone.

A Much Bigger Story Than Benghazi or Niger

Focusing on individual events can distract us from the systems that make those events more probable.

In the 1980s, the Japanese were taking market share from American and European car makers. One study at the time found that German car makers were reaching the same level of quality as the Japanese but needed three times as many employees to do it. Some German car makers were employing as many people at the end of the line to fix cars as some Japanese car makers were to work the line. When Japanese workers encountered an error they had authority to shut down the whole line and initiate an investigation into why the error had occurred. Rather than just fix the error at the place, they might change the upstream flow of work to lower the probability that someone would make that error again. Japanese workers were regularly fixing the system while Germans were regularly fixing cars.

Which brings me, curiously enough, to stories about our military. Right now, media and politicians are focused on the story of how four soldiers were killed in Niger. This is very similar to the focus on the four dead in Benghazi in 2012 and this focus on individuals misses a more important story about policy, the system that makes these tragic events more or less probable.

First of all, let’s assume for a moment that anyone killed in service to our country deserves honor and their families deserve acknowledgement and gratitude. Let’s further assume that whether or not they died in an incident that got an enormous amount of coverage, their families are equally shattered by this loss. Whether they were the only one killed that year in service to their country or one of 2,000, the trauma and grief their families suffer is real and they deserve our support.

Stalin was quoted as saying, “One death is a tragedy and a million is a statistic.” Perhaps it is because we can’t comprehend 2,000 deaths as easily as we do 2, we are made numb by the bigger number and saddened by the smaller. The media is currently gripped by the story of Myeshia Johnson, the pregnant widow of La David Johnson who received a phone call in which Trump’s offer of comfort included the phrase, “He knew what he was signing up for …” Yet a much bigger story is playing out here that is obscured by the odd way the media fixates on a Benghazi or Niger but ignores the bigger story about how many widows and widowers are experiencing what Myeshia Johnson is.

If you appreciate the tragedy of Chris Stevens death (he was the ambassador killed in Benghazi) and the grief of Myeshia Johnson, you have to be humbled by the thought of losing more than a thousand soldiers a year. Between 1980 and 2010, an average of 1,575 American military were killed each year. Each year. During that time the lowest it ever dropped to was 796 (that was in 1999) and it rose as high as 2,465 (in 1983). In only six years during that 31-year stretch did the number killed drop below 1,000. (1996 to 2001.)

Each death involved a real person and deserved its own story but our policy made the number killed each year remarkably consistent. Policy was the bigger story than any one of those deaths because it was policy that made the number of those deaths so remarkably consistent for so long.

And then the most remarkable thing happened. The number killed steadily fell. In 2010 the number killed was 1,485. Then, in 2011 467 died. In 2012 it was 314, 2013 was 132, 2014 was 60, 2015 was 28 and then in 2016 it was 30.  30 is 2% of what it averaged from 1980 to 2010.

It’s not true that each of these numbers are mere statistics. We aren’t equipped to comprehend 1,575 grieving families and all their friends. We can scarcely comprehend one. But the limits of our empathy shouldn’t excuse the obvious: a year in which 2,465 of our military are killed is 82 times worse than a year in which 30 are killed.

Obama deserves criticism for reneging on his threat to intervene in Syria. His decision not to send in American troops may have resulted in more civilian deaths in the last few years. But Obama also deserves respect for his decision. For one thing, he couldn’t see the next move. Who takes power once Assad is out and how does that lower the number of casualties and refugees? (Not only did our invasion of Iraq result in somewhere between 100,000 and a million Iraqi deaths, it created millions of refugees. Attacking a country doesn’t guarantee a fall in casualties.) It is not clear whether his decision to keep troops out of Syria resulted in more Syrian deaths.

It is clear that during Obama’s last six years our American troops were safer. Only a fraction of the number who would have died with previous policies died during his last six years in office. This deserves more attention than it has received. Had our service people died at the same rate in Obama’s last six years as they had in the 31 years prior, 8,418 more of them would have been killed. 8,418 grieving families and their friends. 9 times more grief and tragedy than actually occurred. This is not just a statistic. It is not just a story. It is 8,418 life stories that get to be told in radically different ways. And it is not just their stories. It is the stories of their children who get to grow up with both parents. Or the story of the children who were born because a mother or father lived well past the date they would have if they had been deployed under the policies of a president more eager to put boots on the ground.

Progress doesn’t come from fixing each tragic event after it happens. Progress comes from making changes to the system, or in this case to the policies that determine how our troops are deployed.

Foreign policy that spares the lives of 8,418 soldiers may not seem as gripping as tragedies that take the lives of four but they matter more. If we’re going to be factual about it, they matter 2,000 times more. That, it seems to me, deserves at least as much attention as a tragedy in Benghazi or Niger.

Data sources on military casualties are harder to find now. Sites that formerly posted data now yield up an error. Here are the places I went for data months ago and just this week. It would seem the Trump administration or someone in DoD wants to make these numbers less transparent.





21 October 2017

Who is Poor? Who Should Help? - Poll to test perceptions on what is fair for income redistribution

Per my survey (which likely differs from what you would glean from the general population), people think that households with income of about $40,000 to $50,000 or more should pay additional tax to help households with income of only $30,000 to $40,000 or less. That seems worthy of unpacking.

The survey is here but asked only two questions:

Who should help the poor? Only people whose income puts them in the following categories should be taxed extra to help the poor.


Who do you consider poor? Only people whose income would put them in the following categories should receive income help from richer citizens.

I got 22 responses to the survey. Two (9%) self-identified as conservatives, two (9%) as libertarian, three (14%) as moderates and 15 (68%) as liberals.

Now some data. (Household income calculated from here.) Here is the minimum amount your household would have to make to land in the top [1%, 10%, 20%, etc.] $140,000, for example, means that you are in the top 10% of American households (or, of course, making more than 90% of American households.)

One person (5%) thought that no one should be taxed to help the poor. One of my respondents (5%) thought household income should be higher than $383,000 before paying a special tax to help the poor. Most respondents (7, or 32%) thought that any household making more than $40,000 should pay additional tax for the poor. Cumulatively, 14 respondents (64%) thought that any household making more than $50,000 should pay additional to help the poor.

Curiously, the one respondent who thought no one should be taxed to help the poor nonetheless thought that the poor should be helped. The question, then, is who qualifies as poor and in need of help? Five (23%) of my respondents thought only households making less than $12,000 needed help. (It's worth noting here that in America's 50 biggest cities, a median, one-bedroom apartment costs $15,000 a year. Without any help, $12,000 a year would be tough.) Most respondents (12 or 54%) thought that households making less than $30,000 to $40,000 deserved help.

One of the great things about a democracy is that it has to reconcile so many different views. 12 (55%) of my respondents thought that people making about $40,000 to $50,000 should be taxed to help the poor. 8 (36%) of my respondents thought that those same households were poor and should be helped. It would be tough to tax someone from one pocket and then help them by putting money back in their other pocket.

My opinion, for what it is worth? The top third should help the bottom third. The third in the middle? They get no help and they don't have to help anyone. That essentially means that any households making more than $75,000 are taxed to help the poor and any household making less than $33,000 would get help. If you make between $33,000 to $75,000 - as do a third of American households - you neither pay for the poor nor get help for being poor. Also, I wouldn't argue vigorously with someone arguing that the cutoffs should be at 25% and 75% (which would mean only households making less than $26,000 would get help and only households making more than $90,000 would help them.) (And this would be progressive tax. Income over $75,000 might be taxed at 1% and income over, say, $400,000 might be taxed at 5%. Also, I'm not saying that people wouldn't have other taxes to pay to help finance schools, roads, courts, etc. Those taxes I would apply to at least the top two-thirds of Americans and - again - progressively.)

Here are the results from the poll. Thank you for helping me to get a sense of what people think of as fair.

20 October 2017

Podcast - Social Invention, Progress & Trump

Here is my very first podcast:

Social Invention, Progress & Trump, one in a series of Fourth Economy podcasts.

"History consists of a series of accumulated imaginative inventions."
- Voltaire

The simple argument is that it is a struggle to understand politics and policy today without understanding social invention. A wave of social invention is simultaneously creating new opportunities and threatening old identities. Among the major points made in the podcast:
  1. Social inventions like banks and nation-states are as important to progress as technological or product inventions like steam engines and computers.
  2. 100 years ago the rate of product invention accelerated. Now, the rate of social invention (e.g., the EU, NAFTA, Uber-like employment, same-sex marriages) is accelerating.
  3. Progress in the West has come from treating social inventions like tools rather than as either sacred or disposable.
  4. The three major social inventions and reinventions that resulted in freedom of religion, democracy, and the American Dream (essentially the democratization of financial markets) inform us as to what strategies and measures result in successful social invention.

14 October 2017

What Your Fellow Americans Are Making - And What That Suggests About Minimum Wage Law

13 October, our Social Security Administration released data on last year's wage earners.

An income of $95,000 put you in the top 10%, made you 1 out of 10.
An income of $250,000 put you in the top 1%, 1 out of 100. 
$500,000 put you in the top 0.1%, or 1 out of 1,000.
$50,000,000 - fifty million - put you in the top 0.001%. It made you one in a million. 143 people reported incomes of over $50 million and those 143 people had average incomes of $100 million.

Here's another remarkable stat. Merely having an income put you in the top 50%. When I write, "top 10%," above, I'm writing about the top 10% of wage earners. Social security has data on 163 million wage earners. There are about 325 million Americans, so only about half of Americans reported incomes. Some were too young. (My wife's second grade class is full of slackers who haven't earned a dime in their life.) Some were too old. Some are too rich to work or make their living from investments rather than wages, property or stock owners. Some are too handicapped. Some are working jobs without wages, jobs like caring for their kids or parents. Some depend on family or friends for food and housing, some are in school, some recovering from injury, some permanently disabled, etc.

Now let's get into the normal people, the wage earners who don't make six figure salaries but still work. The 90%.

If you make $15,000, you make more than 30% of all wage earners. $15,000 a year works out to $1,250 a month. Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the country's most expensive 22 cities is higher than $1,250 a month. Assuming that you have to eat, buy clothes, get transportation, etc., what nearly a third of Americans make is not enough. 

If you made $30,557.71 last year, you made more than half of all wage earners. You have as many people who would trade wages with you as you would trade wages with. In some sense, you are the representative American, someone fellow Americans are as likely to pity as envy.

$30,000 a year works out to $15 an hour. Half of wage earners make less than this. Half.

Seattle is a wonderful city. It's both home to two of the richest men in the world and to many liberals who folks in the Midwest would consider more liberal than Scandinavians. They've recently passed a $15 an hour minimum wage. 

I have a problem with that.

I don't have a problem with places like San Francisco and Seattle - places where median wages are $90,000 to $100,000+ a year - saying to employers, "If you want to hire our people you have to pay more than you would elsewhere." That makes perfect sense to me. 

What doesn't make perfect sense to me? Choosing to make that minimum wage $15 an hour - an amount MORE than what half the people in this country make. 

Average wages in Belarus and Armenia are about one-tenth the average wage in the US. You can't just pass legislation requiring all businesses to pay Armenian employees the same as American employees. It's a noble and proper aspiration to lift wages but the way you get there is complicated. Better education. Easier access to foreign markets where they can sell their goods and services. More capital investment that makes their people more productive. 

Minimum wage seems to work as a prod to businesses or industries that aren't keeping up. It can force the folks in the bottom of 10% or 25% of labor productivity to either go out of business, go overseas or to up their game and make their employees more profitable even at a higher wage. What it can't do is force wages up for half the workforce. You need more complicated policies than that.

Policies that make it easier to live when you make only $15,000 a year or less - something that 30% of the workforce is doing - are good, humane and necessary. Minimum wage laws that ignore what the market says about the value of half your workforce seem, by contrast, bad, silly and doomed to backfire. 

12 October 2017

What is Likely to Trigger the Next Stock Market Downturn

Watch for legislation that cuts capital gains tax. Once that happens, people with equities will be able to sell with lower tax penalty. If you have a 401(k) that lets you sell without paying taxes, you might want to sell off, say, 20% of the more volatile stocks before the legislation is signed because shortly after it is likely that the market will begin its correction.

Unemployment Rate: What is Next After the Longest Drop in History?

We have data on monthly unemployment rates in the US from January 1948 - shortly after World War 2 - through September of 2017. During that time it has never been lower than 2.5% (which it was in May and June of 1953 at the peak of the post war recovery) and never been higher than 10.8% (which it was in November and December of 1982 in the depth of the Volcker-induced recession during Reagan's first term).

Half the time it is below 5.7% and half the time it is above 5.7%.

Unemployment rates of 3.8% or lower put you in the top 10%; rates of 7.9% or higher put you in the bottom 10%. 80% of the time, unemployment rates have bounced between 3.9% to 7.8%; that range defines normal. Outside of that range things are great or awful.

At the depth of the Great Recession - in October of 2009 - unemployment hit 10%. That's among the worst 1% of all months. (Well, in the worst 1.2%.) Since then it has steadily come down during the longest uninterrupted streak of job creation on record. Last month - the end of the streak - unemployment hit 4.2%, a value in the best 17%. We're in the top 20% but not yet top 10%, really good but still not great.

One simple answer as to whether unemployment will drop further is to say that it's only been lower than its current rate of 4.2% 15% of the time. Again, unemployment rates bounce between 4% to 8% most of the time; it doesn't seem to last long outside of that range. That alone suggests that the unemployment rate will soon stabilize or even rise.

Another interesting thing to note is that this is an exceptionally long recovery. Unemployment peaked 8 years ago this month - in October of 2009. A steady drop in unemployment has never lasted longer. The next longest improvement, the drop from the 10.8% high in December of 1982 to its low of 5% in March of 1989, took just over 6 years before beginning to rise again. Unemployment rates steadily drop for a time and then steadily rise, and steady improvements usually last just a few years, not 8 yerars.

At the start of a recovery people are well aware of all the reasons things can go badly. After all, they are just coming out of a period in which things did, indeed, go badly. Remember how early in the recovery people were anxious about Greece, China's stock market, deficit spending, the mortgage market, Greece, etc. People were looking for reasons that things could go wrong. Now? Now they're looking for reasons that the recovery could continue and less aware of reasons it might not; this makes economies more vulnerable.

There are reasons the unemployment rate could drop further and reasons it won't. 

Among the reasons it could drop further is that our labor force is growing more slowly than it did a decade ago. From 1955 to 2005, US labor force (folks aged about 25 to 65) grew 1.7 percent a year. Since then it has grown about 0.5%. As companies seek to hire, they'll have fewer options; all else being equal, this would translate into lower unemployment.

Another reason it could drop further is because of a drop in immigration. Again, this lowers the number of available workers and could mean that employers will draw from the unemployed rather than the newly available. If immigration rates drop enough, the labor force might even stop growing.

Curiously, the reasons that the unemployment rate could start to rise again include a drop in immigration. Immigrants don't just find work here. They buy houses, clothes, meals and all the things that drive demand for goods and services that, in turn, drives demand for employees here. If Trump's policies are successful at slowing down the flow of immigrants, he'll actually succeed at destroying jobs.

Trade, of course, could still provide jobs for American workers. Assuming, of course that Trump does not ignite trade wars. Simply put, he wants trade wars with our biggest trading partners - threatening to blow up Nafta and trade deals with China - and if he gets his way we'll see a drop in trade with our three biggest trading partners. That will destroy American jobs.

The third reason that the unemployment rate could rise is because Trump is planning to cut spending and taxes. Tax cuts will disproportionately go to the rich. If you give a poor guy a $1,000 in tax cuts, he's likely to spend $900 of it. When you're making only $30,000 a year, you could use that extra $1,000. If, by contrast, you give a rich guy $1,000 in tax cuts, he's likely to save $900 of it. When you're already making $500,000 a year, an extra $1,000 isn't going to change your vacation plans. Government spending ripples throughout the economy in ways simple (the employees of the State Department buy coffee at that little coffee shop across the street) and complex (the Medicare recipient pays a medical bill which enables the hospital to make a down payment on a new imaging technology and the young doctor to make a down payment on a new car). If you cut $1,000 in government spending and then give a $1,000 tax cut to someone rich, you'll reduce spending, reducing demand for the goods and services that drives demand for employees.

What is the punchline? It depends on whether Trump ends trade deals. In either case, unemployment rates are likely to start rising again within 3 to 9 months. If he ends trade deals, they'll begin to rise sharply.

If Trump fails to end trade deals:
Unemployment will fall to no lower than 3.8% within the next six months, after which time it'll start to rise again. Given drops in the growth of the labor force, job creation could turn negative at least one or two more months within the next year even as the unemployment rate remains relatively stable.

If Trump succeeds in ending trade deals like Nafta:
Unemployment will - at best - hit 4% near term but may have already bottomed out at the current 4.2%. We'll have a recession and the unemployment rate will rise to 6% to 8% within a year or two.

11 October 2017

Very Good News About What Happened to Household Finances From 2013 to 2016

Great things happened to the finances of American households between 2013 and 2016. Given it is great news, it didn't get reported. So, you've come to a lowly blog to learn what happened.

In the 3 years from 2013 to 2016

Average monthly income for American families rose by $1,000 a month from the start to the end of this period. Think about what new options that gives families. 
Median income rose nearly $400 a month. A family making $48,000 in 2013 was making nearly $5,000 a year more by 2016. $5,000 a year is half the median global family income. Half. That's how much household income rose.

Breaking it down, though, we find some wonderful gains for groups who make less. This might be the coolest thing about this cool news.

Households headed by someone without a high school diploma make the least (compared to households with high school diplomas, some college, and college degrees). They make the least but their incomes rose the most. Median income for households without a high school diploma rose 15% and average income rose 25%!. (Households with college degrees saw median income rise just 2% and average income go up 15%.) That's a big - and needed - boost to the working poor.

Minority families make less than white families but their gains narrowed those gaps too. (There is still plenty of gap to close but at this rate it will close.) Average income for white families rose 14%. Average incomes for Hispanics rose 26%, for blacks they rose 22% and for other / mixed race families average incomes were up 20%. As with different levels of education, everybody gained but the gaps between groups narrowed. 

Finally, the rich did get richer. Families whose wealth put them in the top 10 percent had average income gains of 23% whereas families in the bottom half of net worth experienced gains of only 5 to 6%. I don't know how one would change that. If I have a million in wealth, my money is going to make money for me. Someone without wealth is not going to compete with that - particularly in a bull market for stocks and housing as it was from 2013 to 2016.

Net worth also rose spectacularly in this time.

Net worth fell for families from 2007 to 2010 (thanks to the Great Recession) and changed little from 2010 to 2013. From 2013 to 2016, though, average net worth rose $140,800. That's nearly $4,000 a month through this 36 month period. Median net worth rose only a tenth of that but still works out to a gain of nearly $400 a month for this period. 

To summarize, in the period between 2013 and 2016, at least half of households experienced a gain in net worth and income of $1,500 a year or more. The average of all households was an income gain of  more than $4,000 a year and a gain in net worth of nearly $50,000 a year.

I don't know how you turn that into bad economic news but somehow, sigh, we have. 

All the data for this post comes from this Bulletin from the Federal Reserve.

10 October 2017

What Trump Will Do to Continually Raise His Ratings - You Won't Believe What He'll Do Next

It is doubtful that any man has more fiercely craved attention than does Donald Trump. Throughout 2016, his ability to attract and hold our attention seemed to wax and never wane. Just when we thought he had topped himself, he found a way to outrage more. Not content merely to lead his rallies with chants of "Lock her up!" about his political opponent - a tactic more befitting to a banana republic than the world's first modern democracy - he then wound up his crowd with an indictment of Clinton that ended with, "Oh well. Maybe the 2nd amendment people will take care of it." A death threat that even banana republic leaders don't make on camera. And on it went, all throughout his campaign, an escalation of outrage that continued to get him more and more attention. Now that he's president the coverage has become even more intense.

Here, then, is a recap of his amazing ability to get higher and higher ratings. I've added four at the end of the list, forecasting simply based on his repeated ability to raise ratings.

So far (in rough order)
1. Has some success as a NY real estate developer.
2. Builds biggest casino
3. Goes bankrupt
4. Coauthors best-selling book
5. Becomes star of wildly popular reality TV show
6. Stirs up birther controversy, claiming that the nation's first black president must not have been born in the country.
7. Announces run for presidency with claim that Mexicans coming across the border are rapists and murderers.
8. During the campaign, brags about the size of his penis in a presidential debate, threatens to lock up his political opponent at rallies, is caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, asks the Russians to release illegally obtained Clinton emails, insults a series of people, including a gold star, Muslim family,  etc., etc., etc.,
9. After election claims that some neo-Nazis are good people, fires or loses a string of key White House staff (including a speaker who is fired within 10 days), insists Congress pass healthcare legislation that he calls mean, insults a series of Republicans he'll need to pass any legislation, threatens to walk away from NAFTA, NATO, Paris Climate Accords, challenges his secretary of state (who called him a f*ing moron) to an IQ test competition, etc., etc., etc.

Then (a prediction of things he'll do to continue to gain even more attention)
10. Is put on trial by Mueller and Congress for colluding with Russians to win the 2016 election
11. Is found guilty and sentenced to prison
12. Forces an armed standoff before surrendering to federal agents (the most watched TV up to that point)
13. In prison is paired with a black Muslim roommate, something that is aired each week for an hour in the world's most popular TV series ever.

08 October 2017

A Simple Proposal for Making Congress Sane and Effective

Budgets are the clearest expression of values. Right now they are negotiated slowly and if a vote comes down to just one or two senators, say, those senators can dictate terms that give their state far more power than the other 48 to 49 states.

If our goal is to have a government that actually represents all 50 states equally - from the most conservative to the most liberal to include everything in between, there is a simple way to do it, as follows.

Require every member of Congress - Representatives and Senators - submit a budget. Don't negotiate. Just submit. Those budgets will be made public to the people in their district. Those budgets will also be averaged together to be the new budget.

This would have so many advantages. One, no one district would have more or less influence than any other. Two, extremists would be marginalized rather than given more power. A person who wants to slash funding for EPA to zero and a person who wants to double its budget would cancel each other out. Three, no one person would be able to hold the budget hostage; members who missed the deadline for submitting a budget would simply have no influence on the new budget.

The result? Less drama, diminished influence for extremists, and more business-like results for the Congress. Most importantly, it would make sure that EVERY district was represented which, it seems, should be the objective of a representative government.