Saturday, July 11, 2020

Being Targeted

Arguably this is paranoia, but the mayor and police chief of my city do not think so and have officially reacted with formal response.  What a sign that I am an old whatever, praising local law enforcement, but, well....

So the issue is that late last evening a truck full of masked white men, and no, we are not talking health masks but ones that cover ID, with flags waving including the Confederate battle flag, were going up and down our block taking photos of certain houses, including ours.  What did these objects of this photographic effort find consistent?  We all had posters on our property declaring "Black Live Matters." Many on our block became upset over this, including my wife, and now the City of Harrisonburg, VA  police are specially watching our block. I note that both the  mayor and police chief of our city happen to be Black, for which at this time I am grateful.

Background here is that I have been living where I am for 32 years with my wife, Marina, in a block in Old Town of Harrisonburg, VA, where most of the houses are somewhat over a century old, and we are five minutes from the central square, as well as being 20 minutes from offices at James Madison University.  Where we are is given by the 2004 prez election.  There are 5 precincts in Harrisonburg, but ours, closest to JMU, was the only precinct in the entire Shenandoah Valley that went for Kerry over Bush. Yes, we are an island of "liberalism," with Harrisonburg later in 16 going strongly for Bernie.

So I happen to live on the most publicized block of all of this Old Town, which I note for the record has both Trump supporters in good number as well as Republicans who  are not big fans of Trump.  There has been a long history of the local newspaper focusing on our block in particular [Daily News Record owned by family of the late racist Harry Byrd], with even our house appearing twice in stories in this paper representing the neighborhood [we have a nice garden in front]. I note  here that our block is a super fave on Halloween for trick or treaters, many hundreds coming from outside the city.  We do our best to treat them well.

Our neighborhood, heavily crawling with  JMU faculty, is certainly mostly an upper middle class neighborhood,  But while being mostly white there are Blacks as well as various people from abroad from all over the world. So we are fairly diverse these days.

Anyway, several weeks ago a friend-neighbor up the street starting putting out these Black Lives Matter signs, costing I think 3 bucks or so, that one could put in one's yard. They went all over town, but our block got more than anywhere else, with where I live 5 of us in a contiguous row puttng them in our visible front yards. At least one of those in our row is a Republican family..

Barkley Rosser

Friday, July 10, 2020

Death Comes To My Old Economics Department

That would be the one at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I have learned that on July 6 one of its current members died, Bill Sandholm, an excellent evolutionary game theorist who was about 50 years old.  It is a sign of my age that he always seemed quite young to me, barely older than my oldest daughter, and now he is dead.  He was a very nice guy, aside from being a very capable economist who was the Richard Stockwell Professor of Economics and once helped me out with a paper that was in a Revise and Resubmit condition.

I bring this up because there is an unconfirmed rumor that he died of complications of Covid-19, with for the moment nobody that I know, including members of the department, knowing what he died of.  If the rumor is correct, he will be the first person I knew personally to die of this dreadful pandemic.  It does bring it rather home.

It also does so because it probably puts the final nail into any plan to visit Madison this summer, which I have done almost every summer if for no other reason than having family members there I wish to see, not to mention some friends still, and it being a very pleasant place to visit in the summer, cooler than Virginia where i live. Indeed, Plan A had been to be there last weekend, but that got put off due to the pandemic.  I had still thought of possibly going maybe at the beginning of August or thereabouts for a quick pop-in.  But now apparently there has been a new spike of cases there and in Wisconsin more broadly, something my daughter who lives there had informed us of just in the last couple of days accompanied by discouraging noises about trying to go there.  And now I have learned about this new development, although it may be that the rumor is false.  But it does seem to be a final hammer hit on any plans to visit that fair city I am so much attached to for now.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Worrying About November 3, 2020

Sigh.  So the US election is now just four days less than being four months from now, and, really, anything can happen. After all, four days less than four months ago was March 11, just before the US fully recognized  that we were in a pandemic, with everything closing, and "the economy falling off a cliff," as it is now put, but was not obvious  on 3/11 at all, even though it was only about two days away.  And the murder of George Floyd was still some time off.  So, the world can turn completely upside down before the election, and nobody should forget that what really matters is what happens in the two weeks before the election, the period of short-term memory, and that really cannot be foreseen.  I mean, those who hate Hillary a lot say it was not a big deal, but most of us realize that if James Comey had not made his big announcement about new nothing investigations of  her emails 11 days prior to the election in 2016, she almost certainly would be running for reelection right now.

So, we are in this obviously ironic position: may Dems are hoping things go badly in the next four months while many GOPs are hoping just the opposite, just so each gets the electoral outcome they want.  This is nothing new, but it does put forward ironies in an unprecedented situation with many  bad things happening and general uncertainty simply super high.  Thus we have the oddity that in Congress it is Dems who are pushing for more and more expansive fiscal stimulus, which would presumably help the economy and thus Trump's reelection chances, while it is GOPs, especially in the Senate where they are in control, who are being the most negative about such a package, especially because of its aid to states and localities, whom they view as Dem interests.  I see out of the White House that Trump himself understands this and would like to see more fiscal stimulus, if perhaps with some limits and conditions.  But, heck, things are indeed fully topsy-turvy.

So, keeping in mind that anything can happen, and I mean seriously all sorts of currently completely inconceivable things, I am going to worry about how if nothing dramatic happens, we could see gradually improving trends on several fronts that could move the November prez election back from its current state where if it were held today Biden would simply blow out Trump and the Dems would easilly take control of the Senate, back more to what was where things were before four months ago, where it looked like a close race in November, both for the White House and the Senate, with Biden's chances probably better than those of the Dems taking the Senate.

Clearly the fundamental driving force will be what happens with the pandemic.  Right now it is getting worse, at least in terms of new cases, in the US, although that has declined in the last few days from over 50,000 per day to the mid 40,000s.  I think it is highly likely we shall see another peak on that due to the gatherings for July 4, but if in fact governors react more strongly and start seriously emforcing mask wearing and all that, we might well see that peak in two weeks as the peak, with a gradual decline going on after that.  Of course there are numerous chances for it to explode again, with the opening of schools in the fall one such obvious possibiity.  But note that most of the rest of the world where they have been serious about mask wearing and social distancing have gotten their cases way down, with them so far staying down.  If the governors get tough, nothing due to Trump, we might see the hot new hotspots getting under control in a few months, especially four months.

Heck, next dooe to where I am in Virginia is Pendleton County, West Virginia.  It is currently the most pro-Trump state in the nation, and also one of the five least infeeted.  My county cite-county has nearly 1700 cases, but Pendleton has a mere 12.  But yesterday GOP WVa Gov. Jim Justice just imposed a statewide requirement to wear face masks in public.  Trump may not get it, but if the GOP govs get it, that might be sufficient to get things much more under control than they are now.

If the virus gets under control, well, then the economy can reopen again and start growing again.  I have already posted on how the US economy has done better than forecast by many.  Now most of us are forecasting a slowdown due to the reemergence of the virus and the new shutdowns.  But while many states are doing new shutdowns, some places are still in their first rounds of reopening.  Heck, here in Virginia, July 1 marked the arrival of Phase 3 of the reopenings, and VA is ahead of DC and Maryland on that. Reopenings, with accompanying heightened GDP growth are still going on.  As it is, I am not forecasting how the economy will do, but it is not at all out of the question that it might be doing not too badly come November, although I am sure unemployment will still be higher than it was four months ago. But on the stock market, heck, the NASDAQ is already at new record highs.

I am not going to speculate about the Black Lives Matter movement, but certaintly that could go in a lot of directions, and the political bottom line on it by November could be much different than it looks now.

So, bottom line is nobody should get complacent that Trump will lose, although I find those who predict that he will definitely win to just completely silly.  Everything is uncertain and up in the air.

Barkley Rosser

Blowing Smoke

The President's keeps saying that the US has the lowest Corona-virus fatality rate in the world.  And he keeps talking about how we have a high number of cases because we test more. The game he is playing is evident, but I keep waiting for  the talking heads to point it out and being disappointed. He is referring to the US case-fatality rate, not the per-capita fatality rate. More testing lowers the case-fatality rate (deaths/case), simply by increasing the denominator. But it simultaneously raises the infection rate (cases/population) by the same proportion, leaving what we are really concerned about, the per-capita mortality rate (deaths/population =(deaths/cases) * (cases/ population)) unaffected. And on this measure, the US is the 7th highest in the world, at 39.82 deaths per 100,000. (I  ignore San Marino and Andorra, because the measured rate is meaningless with such tiny numbers). We are below Italy, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Belgium, France. But we are far above Germany (10.88), Canada (23.61), Mexico (24.66), Iran (13) and a host of others.

Friday, July 3, 2020

July 24 Society For Chaos Theory In Psychology And Life Sciences Conference (Continued)

This continues to the final day the schedule for the virtual 30th SCTPLS conference, registration due July 6 at .

Friday, July 24

8:00-9:30 AM

Session A

Orlando Gomes, ISCAL, Portugal "Behavioral saving"

Yuji Aruka, Chuo University, Japan "The evolution of exchange processes"

Akio Matsumoto, Chuo University, Japan "Stability swtiching in Cournot duopoly games with three delays"

Session B

Karim Cherif, UMMTO, Algeria "Human resource marketing: A new strategy to retain top talent for company"

Jose Navarro, University of Barcelona, Spain 'The rough journey to success: Examining the nonlinear dynamics of processes and performance in teams"

Teresa Rebelo, University of Coimbra, Portugal "Does virtuality influence team learning? An analysis with cusp models"


Session A

Janice Ryan, Attunement Solutions, Tennessee, USA "Applications of prisoner's dilemma modeling in search of a more socially just dominant strategy: Overcoming anxiety associated with group oppression: Lessons from a single case study"

Ahmed Bilal Zenab, University of London, UK "Nonlinear dynamics od armed groups in Yemen and Pakistan"

Megan  Chiovaro, University of Connecticut, USA "Recurrent quantification analysis of real-time and online social cohesion during the Arab Spring"

Session B

Anatoly Zhiurkov, Saint Petersburg University, Russia "Simple and complex models of optimal blood pressure: Fifteenyears of cooperation with SCTPLS"

Dimotrios Stamovlasis, Aristotle University of Thessalonika, Grreece ""Achievement goal orientation and classroom goal structures: Dynamic interaction effects on students' academic behavior"

David Chan, Virginia Commonwealth University, USA "The protective effect of having a prime supporter within a social networek of college students on mental health and education"

12:00-1:00 PM

Annual Business Meeting


Presidential Address

David Schuldberg, University of Montana, USA "Covid-19 and the nonlinear dynamics of everyday life"


Session A

Allan Combs, IISC, California, USA "Fractals all the way down"

Bernard Ricca, St. John Fisher's College, New York, USA "An introduction to topological data analysis"

Stephen Guastello, Marquette University, Wisconsin, USA "A comparison of four dyadic synchronization models"

Session B
Cortney Armitano-Lago, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, USA "Feedback cueing changes in lower limb loading during gait alters underlying stride intrval dynamics and intralimb coordination dynamics individuals following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction"

Keira Lum, Dalhousie University, Canada "The collision of healthcare and complexity during Covid"

Vivian Rambihar, University of Toronto, Canada "Chaos Complexity and complex system: To prevent, contain and manage Covid-19"


Concluding Session

July 23 Society For Chaos Theory In Psychology And Life Sciences Annual Conference (Virtual)

I am currently President-Elect of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences (SCTPLS), which means I am in charge of organizing their 30th annual conference. It was to be held this year at the University of Toronto, July 22-24, but it will be a Zoom virtual conference on those dates (first day a workshop). Anyway, the registration deadline is July 6, site to register . All are welcome.  I list the program for the 23-24 below, for your interest, with the times being those of Toronto, EDT.

For this post I just show

Thursday, July 23:

8:00 AM: Welcome, Introduction, and Instructions

8:30-10:00 AM

Session A

Michael Susko,, Pennsylvania, USA  "Ten pulses of evolution & the logarithmic nature of evolutionary time"

Martin D. Pham, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada "Towards nonlinear neural models of linguistic indicators in cognitive impairment with implications for Evental psychiatry"

Ken Ware, QLD, Australia "Gravities 100% reliable vertical constraint"

Session B

Bob Hodge, University of Western Sydney, Australia "Some implications of Anderson's ontological hierarchy: the case of semiotics"

Harold Hastings, Bard College of Simon's Rock, Massachusetts, USA "Empirical scaling and dynamics regines for GDP: challenges and opportunities"

J. Barkley Rosser, Jr., James Madison University, Virginia, USA "Complexity and knowledge"


Keynote Session

Simon A. Levin, Princeton University, USA "Collective motion, collective decision-making, and collective action"


Session A


Najia Bao, Columbia University " How to lower the threshold of STEM long term memory"

Session B

Poster Session

Gentian Vyshka, University of Tirana, Albania 'Hell is made of snapshots: Disguised religious images inside an allegedly communist movie"

Sungchoon (Aviva) Sinclair, University of Utah, USA "A common pattern across different disciplines in theoretical physics, chemistry, biology, and plastic art: Using an archetype of universal non-verbal plastic patterns by Kang Woo-Hang from a qualitative perspective"

Aleksander Jakimoowicz, INEPLAN, Poland "Hyperchaos in financial markets."

Abdel Hannachi, Stockholm University, Sweden " Nonlinear time series modelling of the North Atlantic Oscillation"

Mikhail Zimin, 2554629 Ontario Ltd, Canada "Description of chaos with the help of stochastic probability density functions"

Vivian Rambihar, University of Toronto,Canada "Chaos Complexity Covid-19: 30 years teaching health professonals chaos and complexity"

Chad Danyluck, University of Colorado-Boulder, USA "Physiological synchrony during a pre-practice routine is associated with poor performance in a team of male volleyball athletes"


Session A

Mark Shelhamer,Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA "A complex systems approach to human and mission resilience for a mission to Mars"

Kevin Dooley, Arizona State University, USA "A CAS model of systemic corruption"

Stephen Guastello, Marqutte University, Wisconsin, USA "Autonomic synchronization, leadershipo emergence, drivers and empaths"

Session B

Bernard Ricca, St. John Fisher's College, New York, USA "On the meaning of 'phase' in collaborative research"

Matthijs Kooopmans, Mercy College, New York, USA "The distinction between seasonal and fractal patterns in long-range time series I: Concepts of fractal estimation"

Matthijs Koopmans, Mercy College, New York, USA "The ditinction between seasonal and fractal patterns in long-range time series II: Modeling responses to seasonal and fractal estimation"


Session A


Jenny Magnes, Vassar College, New York, USA "Dynamics markers of C. elegand motion in three dimensions"

Tyler Hatch, Vassar College, New York, USA "Nonlinear time series analysis of C. elegans motion"

Session B

Allan Combs, IISC, California, USA "Tottering on the edge of chaos"

William Sulis, McMaster University, Canada "The continuum from temperament to mental illness: Clinical and dynamical perspectives"

David Kreindler, University of Toronto, Canada "Dynamic warping to analyze the similarity of mood sympton time series data"


Social Gathering

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Wildly Off Forecasts?

The macroeconomic forecasting business has become quite unhinged in the current situation, with existing models seeming to have their wheels coming off as old relationships simply do not hold and reported data seems unreliable and going in all sorts of directions.  We have already seen this happen regarding forecasts that were made for the May employment numbers, with most forecasters projecting employment declines that would have been more than 10%, some of them by a lot more than that, although none more than 20%. But in the end employment was estimated to have grown by over 2%, a situation of the forecasters simply being wildly wrong.

As it is, with the month of June now over and thus the second quarter over, it looks increasingly to me like most of the forecasters have not learned their lessons from that May employment fiasco.  I suspect that in many organizations they find it hard to revise their models, especially on short notice, even when it is clear their models are not working.  We see a lot of the forecasters making predictions of a large second quarter decline in GDP, but more numbers have come out for May, and most of them have been positive, some of them very positive, and if June continues to be positive, even if at a lesser rate than May given renewed shutdowns occurring due to the uptick in Covid-19 infections as June proceeded, this may further make some of these strongly negative forecasts even further off.

So what are some of these forecasts and what do the latest reported numbers look like?  First we must note the first quarter outcome.  It seems that GDP declined by -4.8% or 5.0% for the first quarter at an annualized rate.  All of the decline occurred in March, more than offsetting modest growth in both January and February. 

But the forecasts for annualized rates of decline for the second quarter are awesome, at least most of them.  I am getting these from a post by Menzie Chinn over on Econbrowser and are from less than a week ago on June 26.  Here are some:
GDPNow -39.5%
New York Fed -16.3%
St. Louis Fed -38.16%
IHS Markit -35.3%.

Clearly rhe only one not showing a massive decline is the New York Fed.

Menzie  also showed how the forecasts have evolved for two other forecasters.  A blue chip group's forecast was for a -25% rate on April 30, but slid to -35% by June 5.
The Atlanta Fed has had its forecast make large movements, starting out at a relatively modest -12% as of April 30, but then plunging to a whopping -54% as of June 5, but then in the face of more recently improving data by June 26 this forecast had moved to not a not quite as whopping -40%.

So what does estimated data look like?  One estimate I have seen for the month of April had the actual decline of GDP being -11.4%, which translates to about a -42% annualized  rate.  But we already see here the danger for all of those forecasts listed above except for that of the New York Fed.  It is near certain indeed that the economy has been growing in both May and June.  If so that annualized rate of -42% looks to be a definite outer bound.

Now if there has been barely any growth in May and June we might still see numbers in the 30s for the annualized rate of decline.  But at least for May the numbers do not look like that.  We have already seen employment grow at over 2%, which is the actual growth, not the annualized, which is much higher.  We now have an estimate for consumption, which grew at over 17% in May. Given that consumption is on the order of 70% of GDP that is pretty much the ballgame right there, barring some sharp turnaround in June.  This is especially the case as estimates of construction also seem to show sharp growth in May, a major component of investment, although if inventories fall sharply, that might offset the construction increase.  State and local governments were almost surely declining and probably still are, but probably not a massive rates.  Trade is especially hard to predict, with indeed net exports appearing to decline in April by somewhere between -7 and -16%.  But exports might actually be rising now as much of the world economy appears to be growing again.

The apparently steep decline of GDP in April will be hard to overcome during these past two months.  But it is not out of the question that we might actually see a slightly positive figure for the quarter, especially if it turns out that growth in June continued to be as strong as it looks like May was.  But even if it flattened out some as I suggested might happen in a recent post, it looks to me that the sharply negative predietions still being held to by so many forecasters simply look to be way off.  Even the much less negative New York Fed may prove to have been too negative, even if indeed the quarter outcome is still negative overall for GDP growth, with it probably going to be more than a month before we shall know at all reasonably.

I conclude by noting that even if second quarter is positive or only mildly negative, growth prospects going forward for the near future look less promising.  This is not only because of the recent spiking of Covid-19 cases with associated shutdowns, but also because portions of the large fiscal stimulus that has been going on and has probably aided the recent growth will have disappeared or will do so unless Congress acts to keep them going.  In particular, the individual stimulus checks have ceased, and the expanded unemployment benefits are scheduled to cease at the end of July.  What is more certain is that we are truly profoundly uncertain about what will transpire in the next few months.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Going Too Far

Unfortunately it was going to happen, and we who support the movement need to call out those instances where it goes too far.  I am talking about the justified Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, mostly characterized by widespread peaceful protests even in small rural towns that never see such things, and with a solid majority of the American people currently supporting both the BLM and its main demands.  As it is, one should probably not tie the BLM to some of these recent unacceptable events, although those engaged in them will justify their actions as being part of the movement. This should not be accepted.

OK, the one that has really put me off happened last night at sometime after 10:30 PM in Madison, Wisconsin.  A statue I know well was not only pulled down, but it was decapitated with both parts thrown in a nearby lake, although apparently since recovered. This statue stood on the east corner of the Capitol Square downtown.  It is of Hans Christian Heg (1829-1863).  An immigrant from Norway, he was an active anti-slavery abolitionist and member of the Free Soil Party who led the 15th Scandinavian American regiment in the Union army.  He died fighting against the Confederacy in the Battle of Chickamauga, which it says on the base of his statue.  There is absolutely no justification for this event.

This was accompanied by other pretty unacceptable nonsense. The "Forward" statue at the opposite end of the square was also pulled down and dragged down State Street.  This is of a generic woman representing the state motto of "Forward," not quite as completely insane as pulling down Heg, but also without any obvious justification.The Forward motto and idea has long been associated with the Progressive tradition in the state, although I suppose one could drag in bad stuff about some of those folks, such as that some supported eugenics. But I do not think this crowd was thinking about that.

What triggered this? Apparently a man entered a restaurant with a baseball bat and a bullhorn, with which he began to harangue customers. He was later arrested for disorderly conduct, which sounds pretty reasonable to me.  There was no violence or other impropriety in his arrest.  But the crowd that pulled down the statues and smashed a lot of windows and attacked a state senator, putting him in the hospital for taking a photo of them, came several hours after his arrest to protest his arrest.  Bah!

I note two other items that need to be disavowed and opposed by supporters of the BLM. 

One was the tearing down of a statue in San Francisco of U.S. Grant. allegedly because for two years he owned a slave he inherited before he freed that slave. Well, I guess there is more case for pulling down his statue than that of Heg, for which there is zero. But he was not only the commander of the Union army that freed the slaves, but as president he supported Reconstruction that defended rights of the freed former slaves. The move to Jim Crow followed the end of his presidency.

Another is the continuation of the CHOP or CHAZ in Seattle, which, I gather, will be ended fairly soon one way or another.  Initially sort of interesting, the area has been hit with shootings over the last four nights, with one over the weekend killing 19-year old Lorenzo Anderson.  These are apparently not he result of outside white boogaloo racists attacking them but coming from inside this area.  There so far has been zero investigation of or effort to find Anderson's murderer and arrest him.The only report I have seen is that Anderson was advocating people not setting off fireworks due to a possible fire hazard. This appears to have what got him killed, although so far there is little solid information.But, sorry, this experiment should not end and not be repeated anywhere else.

I further note that Hannity and others on Fox News are spending lots of time going on and on about this Seattle situation.  Trump has been engaging in a series of increasingly unacceptable and outrageous actions, but those watching Fox and its allies hear and see none of that because, wow, there go those awful rioters in Seattle again!  Initially Fox made up and distorted reporting about what was going on there, which was initially peaceful and, yes,"Summer of Love" like.  But, unfortunately, now they do not need to make up stuff to put up ugly stories about it.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, June 22, 2020

Is The Possible V-Shaped Recovery Flattening As The Second Quarter Comes To An End?

Probably,  although it is unclear whether or not we are having a V-shaped recovery (see most recent post here). However, whatever it is, it looks like the revived spread of the coronavirus is probably slowing it somewhat.  New cases are up by 15% nationally from low point several weeks ago, and there are reports of businesses of various sorts closing, if not whole communities.

The pattern of the increase has various aspects:

1) It seems to be now more in red states than blue states, with the trend having been toward this since the early days of the pandemic when it first started in major Dem cities in major Dem states, such as Seattle, WA, the Bay Area of CA, and the New York metro area.  Of the states with the most rapid recent increase we have only three that are predominantly Dem: CA, OR, and NV, with one purplish, NC, and the rest GOP: SC, GA, FL, AL, MS, AR, OK, TX, AZ, UT.

2) While now it is predominantly rising in GOP states where governors have not strongly encouraged social distancing or mask wearing while rushing to fully reopen, and in some cases even banning local communities from requiring mask wearing in public places, although some of those are now backing off that, such as Abbott in Texas, if one looks at this at the county level it remains that Dem counties are still outnumbering GOP ones, although the trend is strong toward GOP ones, and the line on this one will probably be crossed soon (these designations are based on how they voted in presidential election in 2016). The obvious explanation for this apparent discrepancy is that in the red states cases tend to be increasing more in densely populated areas, which are more likely to be urban areas in Dem counties in those states, such as the Houston metro area in Texas.

3)  There is not a clear pattern of these either being spread across states or concentrated in particular areas.  Some states with increases scattered widely include the Carolinas, Florida, and Alabama.  Some where they are more isolated/concentrated in particular locales include the two largest on this list: California and Texas.

4) Certain sectors seem to be especially hit be reclosings, notably restaurants and bars as well as some sports facilities.

5) A possible offset to all this is that certain communities are still reopening, despite this new round of new cases.  An example is Washington, D.C., which just got going today with its second stage of reopening, following its suburbs in MD and VA that have already done so.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Might There Be A V-Shaped Economic Recovery After All?


This is a matter where if it happens, I shall be proven wrong.  I have mostly emphasized how much uncertainty and lack of knowledge we face about the pandemic as well as the economy in this situation, and have as a result largely stayed away from making specific or definite forecasts on those matters.  However, here and in other places on the internet, I have made a lot of forecasts that the time path of GDP is likely to look like a "lazy J" or "whoosh," a pattern of a slow recovery after the very rapid decline, with a possible W if a second wave of the pandemic hits hard.  What I often dismissed, sometimes rather pompously to people who seemed to push it for blind political or ideological reasons was that there might be a rapid bounceback, a V-shaped recovery.  Now that looks like it might happen, or at least a modest version of it, so I may be wrong on my past forecasts.

Curiously, as noted in a fairly recent post, I was one who was not surprised by the net increase in employment in May, given the evidence noted in still earlier posts of a likely turnaround in GDP that probably dates back even into late April and probably not later than early May, looking at figures on gasoline demand and carbon emissions.  It seemed not surprising that this turnaround would lead to some new hiring, even as further layoffs were clearly happening.  But most of this data seemed consistent with the Whoosh scenario, with these renewed increases occurring at rates much lower than the rates of preceding decline.  So the net increase in hiring in May was only 2.5%, large for a normal time, but only beginning to offset the double digit plunge that had happened before it.

But now we have the report that looks pretty accurate that retail sales rose 17.7% from April to May, not sure  of the precise cutoffs for this.  I made no specific forecast for that, but given the labor hiring numbers, I would figure that probably retail sales rose more than hiring.  But there is no way I would have forecast a double digit increase, and might not even have predicted more than a 5% increase, if I had done so.  Thus, needless to say, I am quite surprised by this figure.

Indeed, for retail sales this more than a V-shaped recovery.  The rate of decline for March to April was -14.4%.  Apparently retail sales are now only 8% below their peak in February.  So the rate of growth of retail sales could slow to half the April to May rate and end up higher than the February level.  I find this hard to believe, but I also have no good grounds for questioning this data.

Advocates of a V-shaped recovery, whether Trump and his immediate advisers, or other economists, mostly a minority, argued that an outburst of "pent-up demand" would lead to this, and it would seem that has happened, with probably some non-trivial assistance from stimulus checks and generous unemployment benefits, along with some other elements of fiscal stimulus, some of which have already stopped or are scheduled to do so in coming months.  I had dismissed such a strong surge of purchasing based on people being afraid and cautious, as well as many sectors still held down specifically due to pandemic restrictions, at least through much of May.

As it is, there have been large sectoral variations in this.  Among the most rapidly rising sectors have been clothing, sports equipment, and furniture.  Would I have forecast these to be tops?  Not particularly.  Others have remained much lower, e.g. cruise lines are still going nowhere.  But lots of sectors have seen pent-up demand bursting out and large sales increases, with retail sales the major part of consumption, which in turn is 70% of GDP.  So this goes a long way to pushing for an overall GDP V-shaped recovery.

But, of course, while it is the largest part of GDP, consumption is not all of it.  And almost certainly the other parts are not rising anywhere near this retail sales rate, with some of them even possibly declining, such as local and  state government activity.  Federal government activity may not be declining, but it is probably not rising that much, as the huge increases in transfer payments are not directly increases in GDP. They only stimulate that through their role in aiding this surge of retail sales that has happened.  While consumers may not have been held back by all the ongoing uncertainty, certainly businesses are, so I would be surprised if we see any increase beyond minimal in capital investment now.  OTOH, there may be some growth in exports as the rest of the world's economy probably turned around sooner than did the US one, and there are reports of some specific exports rising sharply, such as pork exports to China.

There is reason to believe that some of this increase in retail sales will slow down or even reverse, even as some more laggard sectors might pick up.  Several of those most rapidly rising sectors feature big ticket items not likely to be ongoing, especially furniture.  Some of this may have been an outburst of pent-up demand showing up on such big ticket items that will not continue or may even fall back a bit.  But given that I did not catch the scale of this increase at all, I am not really in all that good of a position to make very definite forecasts on all this. 

My bottom line guess on this is that GDP will still not quite look like a perfect (or more rapidly rising on the right-hand side) V, as the non-consumption parts of GDP drag behind and keep the clearly rapidly rising consumption to produce a total GDP rising more rapidly than it fell.  But it is now highly likely that what we shall see in the near future does more resemble a V than any of the other shapes or letters that have been proposed, including those I forecast.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Do BLM Protests Prove No More Pandemic?

It has become a widespread meme that the many protests over the murder of George Floyd and other racially based police brutality will show that it is fine to end all shutdowns related to the pandemic and end all rules about social distancing and wearing face masks.  Here we are reaching two weeks since these protests with thousands of people involved, supposedly all violating those rules, and we are not seeing a surge of Covid-19 cases coming out of the locations where these big protests have happened.

Well, it turns out, that while the reports are scattered, apparently at many of the protests many people wear face masks, not only that, there is apparently a lot of trying to keep some distance from each other as well, although based on the performance of nations in East Asia, it is pretty clear that the wearing of face masks is the most useful.  Among other cities with large protests where this has been observed is Philadelphia. But in many places there has been much urging of this.

It is a mere anecdote, but I can report that I attended one such protest, admittedly in peaceful Harrisonburg, VA where I live where we have a black mayor and a black police chief.  But I attended a peaceful protest with over 1000 people.  Almost everybody was wearing a mask, and most people were keeping distance from each other.  There has been a lot of this.

So, this meme widely spouted with great arrogance by many observers is just misleading.  It is quite likely we shall see no spike of cases following most of these protests, although possibly in some locations.  But that does not mean this will hold for places where reopenings coincide with lots of people imitating our president and not wearing face masks or maintaining social distancing.  And indeed, we are seeing surges of cases in many such states, with the vast majority of those being where we have seen such attitudes and policies.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, June 15, 2020

Econospeak And Angry Bear Still On List Of Top Economics Blogs, Now For 2020

Intelligent Economist has again put out its annual list of the top 100 economics blogs, with some new ones and some gone, although two of those were due to retirements, especially the much-missed Economists View of Mark Thoma. Anyway, both Econospeak and Angry Bear are still on the list, the latter in the general category while for whatever reason Econospeak continues to be put in the financial blog category. Oh well, at least they say complimentary things about us (not really "they," but Prateep Agarwal, who seems to be the person making this list).

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Why Trump Is in Trouble

Trump is staggering.  He’s plunging in the polls, and his behavior has become erratic and unhinged.  I don’t mean he’s being crude, infantile and wrapped in a world of fantasy—he’s always like that.  Rather, I see him as suddenly incoherent, fumbling with threats and catchphrases as if he were locked out of his house at night, frantically trying one key after another to see if any will work.


Here’s my theory: throughout his career, Trump has been resolutely self-defining.  He selects his issues, positions and attributes (clever deal-maker, hardass boss, financial/sexual/political winner, tough guy warrior for patriarchal values, underdog rebel against the Establishment) to construct a persona of his own choice.  He takes the initiative.

2016 was a great year for him.  While much was wrong with America, none of it was urgent in a screaming you-can’t-look-away-from-this sort of way.  There was plenty of political space for Trump to define what he thought the country should be focused on and why he would be the one to fix it.  The media provided invaluable service, making a big deal of every tweet, boastful claim or rally-fueled hyperbole.  Through them, Trump told us what the election was about: the invasion of dangerous immigrants pouring through our undefended borders, the humiliation of the America by China, and the haughty, corrupt elitism of Democratic politicians.  Even by disputing his take on these things, the media reinforced the notion that these were the main issues facing the country.

What has collapsed for Trump, finally in 2020, is not just the economy, the health of the population or the racial order, but his ability to determine what the issues are: he has lost control of the narrative.  This is not because the Democrats have beat him at his own game.  On the contrary, they are as clueless about these things as they’ve always been.  His problem is that we are facing real crises that demand our attention whether we want them to or not.  Trump has almost no influence over what politics are about in an election year; the pandemic, the economy and the revulsion against racism and police violence define the political moment on their own.  This is why he seems to be flailing: his entire career has been based on his projection of his needs onto the world, and he has hardly any capacity to respond to the demands of others.

Bad news for Trump: we don’t know how long the current challenge to the racial order will last, but the pandemic and the economic crisis will be with us well beyond November.  They will call the shots.  Trump can blather about some other fantasy issue being the real problem, but few will listen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Stephen Miller's Racist Fix for Race Relations, Part II

In the immigration handbook he wrote for then Alabama Senator Sessions, Stephen Miller cited U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner, Peter Kirsanow, who subsequently was considered by Trump during the transition as a potential nominee for Secretary of Labor. In Kirsanow's June 4 feature for National Review, Flames from False Narratives, he claimed that Black men are not disproportionately the targets of police violence and that the perception they are is a fabrication perpetrated by Hollywood, the media, academics and politicians.

To show that systemic police racism is a myth, Kirsanow presented a list of statistics compiled "from the 2018 National Crime Victimization Survey, Census data, FBI Uniform Crime Reports, and other sources" and cited his dissenting statement 2018 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report for further discussion. The first thing to note is that Kirsanow's statement was a dissent. He disagreed with the findings of the report adopted by the majority. One of those findings had to do with the inadequacy of data collection dealing with police violence. The report found that:
The public continues to hear competing narratives by law enforcement and community members, and the hard reality is that available national and local data is flawed and inadequate. 
A central contributing factor is the absence of mandatory federal reporting and standardized reporting guidelines.
Former Director of the FBI James Comey characterized the data as "incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable." I know, I know, Comey is a deep-state enemy of Donald Trump and therefore anything he said back in February of 2015 was simply a baseless attempt to discredit the President. The FBI publishes a honking huge disclaimer warning against the improper use of UCR data. None of that seems to matter to Kirsanow's high school debate deployment of selected, clumsily massaged statistics.

Of course, there is no way to challenge Kirsanow's numbers with better numbers because "the hard reality is that available national and local data is flawed and inadequate." It is a hard reality that Kirsanow would presumably prefer to retain, given his dissent from the Civil Rights Commission's report. Kirsanow is a lawyer, not a statistician, so it is probably unfair to challenge the logic of his claim that "[i]n 2015, a cop was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was likely to be killed by a cop."

Say what? Almost 20 times as many cops killed by Black men as unarmed Black men killed by cops? Well, no. Kirsanow arrived at his imagin-scary 18.5 times ratio by way of a per capita calculation that is not only preposterous but also wrong in Kirsanow's own terms, even setting aside the not inconsiderable fact that according to the Civil Rights Commission report only about half of police killings of civilians are reported to the FBI.

What Kirsanow did to arrive at his seemingly astonishing ratio is compare cops killed by Black men per 100.000 cops to unarmed Black males killed by cops per 100,000 Black males. The preposterous part of the per capita comparison is that the population of cops is not comparable to a population of African-American males. For example, there are no (or very few) individuals under the age of 20 something or over the age of 60 something in a population of cops. I could go on but the point is that "sworn officers" are not a demographic, they're an occupational category.

O.K. that's just the preposterous part. Now for the part where Kirsanow's calculation fails on its own terms. He compares unarmed Black males killed by cops to cops killed by Black males, where presumably both cops and their killers were armed. This shows conclusively that not all Black males are unarmed at all times yet both unarmed and armed Black males are included in the population Kirsanow used to calculate his per capita comparison. How silly. This may sound like nit-picking but it's the kind of thing that just kind of slips in when you are trying to lie with statistics but don't really understand descriptive statistics.

Yeah, but what about -- gasp! -- BLACK-ON-BLACK violent crime?!? If one actually read the criminology literature one would learn that violent crime is multi-factored, that most violent crime occurs within a given community and higher crime rates are associated with poverty. The analysis is nuanced and doesn't identify any single factor as decisive but here is an intriguing anecdote: white people living in poverty have a higher rate of violent crime than Black people living in poverty.

Black people are more than twice as likely as white people to live in poverty (22% to 9%). Now those two populations are not strictly comparable but then neither are the white and Black general populations that Kirsanow compares with abandon. But if we adjust for poverty using those percentages, the crime discrepancy vanishes! We can't do that because it makes inappropriate assumptions about non-comparable populations. But the reason I brought it up is to point out that the populations Kirsanow compares so blithely are also not comparable. One has a 22% poverty rate and the other has a 9% poverty rate. One of these things is not like the other.

Expect to hear Peter Kirsanow's name a lot in the coming days and possibly see his mangled numbers in Trump's speech on race relations written by Miller. He's African-American. He's a U.S. Civil Rights Commission commissioner. He's conservative. He ticks all the boxes.

Oh, and he's statistical illiterate who uses numbers to score high school debating points.

Stephen Miller's Racist Fix for Race Relations

Word is circulating that Stephen Miller is writing Donald Trump's speech on race relations. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Trump's "solution" to the current malaise in the U.S. will involve extending a ban on immigration and expanding enforcement and expulsion of undocumented individuals. This seems like a safe bet to me because Miller really is a one-trick pony and Trump relishes rehashing his greatest hits. Maybe Miller will toss in some "enterprise zones" or other ornamental trivia but the meat will be anti-immigration.

They playbook for this will be Miller's Immigration Handbook for a New Republican Majority that he wrote for Jeff Sessions in 2015. Footnote 21 of that handbook states that, "Amnesty and uncontrolled immigration disproportionately harms African-American workers, and has been described by U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Peter Kirsanow as a 'disaster.'" The handbook also cites a poll commissioned by Kellyanne \Conway, one finding of which was that "86% of black voters and 71% of Hispanic voters said companies should raise wages and improve working conditions instead of increasing immigration."

Two years ago, I posted a couple of pieces discussing Miller's handbook in more detail: The Lump That Begot Trump and Goebbels or Gompers?: A Closer Look at Stephen Miller's Immigration Manifesto. I hope these pieces provide some insight into just how dangerous and effective Miller's and Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric can be, especially given the hypocrisy of neo-liberal promotion of immigration as exemplified by Tony Blair's and Gerhard Schroeder's "Third Way" advocating "a new supply-side agenda for the left". To put it bluntly, "Third Way" immigration policy was intended to create jobs by keeping wages low through an abundant supply of labor. The transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy would provide ample funds for "investment."

In short, Miller's and Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric is dangerous and effective because Blair and Schroeder (and Clinton and Obama) enacted right-wing, supply-side economic policies in the name of "the ['responsible'] left."

Monday, June 8, 2020

Tear Gas Versus Pepper Spray

Or pepper gas.

So, AG Barr and Pres. Trump (and also the commander of the US Park Police, I think) have been hotly denying that tear gas was used last Mondy in the attack by the Praetorian Guard on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square.  Various of them have also been claiming that as many as three warnings were issued to the crowd before they attacked and also have claimed that the protesters were throwing things at them and hus were violent rioters.  The latter claims have been denied by nearly all observers, including journalists, although it may have been that perfunctory warnings were issued very quietly so that almost nobody could hear them and that maybe one bottle got thrown.  Barr has also denied giving the order for this attack, laying it on the Park Police chief, and also denied that it had anything to do withTrump walking across the square a few minutes after the protesters were cleared to have his photo op at St. John's Church with an upside-down backwards Bible, after church personnel were forced off their own church grounds by the attack.  All of this has turned into a massive embarrassment as polls on this have turned sharply against Trump, and the National Guard from 11 states are now being removed from Washington, if not the still non-IDed Praetorian Guard Barr oversees himself.

Then we have the matter of tear gas, with proetestors clearly crying and coughing and exhibiting symptoms usually associated with being tear gassed as they fled the square, and with most of them claiming to have been "tear gassed."  This has been roundly denied by the three parties identified above.  Instead it has been admitted that "pepper balls" were thrown into the crowd, along with rubber bullets being used and flash-bang grenades.  While both Barr and Trump have both since claimed that these "pepper balls" are not "eye irritants," clearly they are, and a variety of expert sources have reported that they are.

I shall add here my own personal observation, perhaps not relevant due to the passage of time and a basic lack of substantial knowledge on my part.  However, half a century ago when I was involved in various protests while attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, most of them anti-Vietnam War, but some on other mostly racial issues as well, such as after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I accumulated along with others some experience with being on the receiving end of several different "gases."  In particular we at times thought that we were being tear gased while at other times it was claimed that we were being "pepper gased."  Now I do not know what the relation is, if any,between that long ago "pepper gas" and these "pepper balls" used last Monday in Washington, but back then we viewed that "pepper gas" as being more painful and unpleasant than what we identified as being mere "tear gas."  I can also attest that such was used as I had to clean "pepper" off my shower walls in the apartment I was in near campus after such an attack.

So, bottom line, if today's "pepper balls" are anything like the "pepper spray" used in Madison  way back then, then this stuff is actually worse than conventional tear gas and bragging about using it rather than "tear gas" may well be a farce that is not remotely funny.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Looking Down Right Now

"Ryan is looking down right now, and you know that, and he is very happy, because I think he just broke a record." 
"Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that's happening for our country,"
Trump's cynical invoking of George Floyd yesterday has a history that explains what he imagined he was doing. In the first week after his inauguration, Trump approved a Navy Seal raid on suspected positions of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the village of Yakla in Yemen. His National Security Adviser, General Flynn had portrayed the proposed raid as a "game changer" that would contrast Trump's toughness with Obama's supposed indecisiveness.

The raid was a fiasco. AQAP had somehow learned of the impending raid and fortified their positions. Chief Petty Officer William "Ryan" Owens was mortally wounded and at least five other American personnel were also wounded. Dozens of civilians were killed. Owens's father called the mission "a screw-up from the start that ended badly."

Characteristically, Trump deflected responsibility for the raid to the generals and the previous administration while incongruously insisting that it had been a tremendous success. A month later, though, came his opportunity to seize the narrative. At his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump read from the teleprompter a glowing tribute to Officer Owens. He performed the encomium with gusto. When he finished, senators, representatives and guests stood in a sustained ovation while Owens's tearful widow, a guest of Ivanka Trump, gazed upward.

Trump then ad-libbed his remark about Ryan looking down. The quip was well received with gentle chuckling. It nicely broke the tension of the dramatic spectacle.

Now one might dismiss the episode as a cynical, and sinister, exploitation of a pointless death -- not to mention the "collateral damage" -- and a widow's grief. But that isn't the way CNN panelist and ex-Obama aide Van Jones saw it. Jones lauded the performance as "one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics." It was, in Jones's view, the moment Trump "became president of the United States":
That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period, and he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do—if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years. Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.
Undoubtedly Trump would have been shown Jones's effusive commentary and would have basked in its obsequious glow. Yesterday, when he pulled his "looking down right now" stunt for the second time, he probably expected it to resonate as a unifying moment, thinking he was finding "a way to do that over and over again" without quite understanding what "that" had been. George Floyd was not a Navy Seal killed in action. He was an African-American man murdered by cops. The protesters are not sycophantic trained seals like the senators and representatives (of both parties). And, of course, Princess Ivanka had neglected to bring a grieving widow in tow to the "press conference." There was nothing "presidential" about Trump's ghoulish sequel of his "most extraordinary moment."

If the prior performance illuminates the latter one, the opposite is also true. Trump's tribute to Ryan Owens was no less cynical than his clumsy attempt to enlist George Floyd as a posthumous protagonist of the allegedly "great thing that's happening for our country."

Friday, June 5, 2020

Jobs Report Not Really All That Surprising

I am a bit taken aback at how shocked so many are about the new jobs report showing that net hiring in May was positive.  For regular readers here I have made several posts here noting that the US economy was almost certainly growing, probably for at least a month. The most recent was my one a few days ago on Rising Oil Demand, and an earlier one, where I was vaguer about the US economy, was the one on Rising Carbon Emissions.  It has been clear to me that the US economy hit bottom in terms of output about a month ago, which put it about a month behind the world economy as a whole and two months behind China.  All of this correlates with how the relative patterns of the pandemic have gone, with China a month ahead of most of the world and about two months ahead of the US.  I think it has been pretty clear that US GDP has been growing, so nobody should be all that surprised that the labor market has turned around and net hiring is now positive.

How did all this confusion come about?  I think the issue is that we get weekly reports on fresh layoffs as measured by new applications for unemployment insurance while we only get monthly reports on net hiring, with our monthly BLS reports such as the one that came out today and surprised the heck out of so many observers who should have known better.  I note that I did not forecast an increase in net hiring, but I had avoided making any forecasts on employment beyond the comment that it is a lagging indicator behind output, which would allow for net hiring to have still been negative. But I was somewhat mystified by what seemed to be such an disjuncture, clear evidence GDP was rising while there were these ongoing weekly reports of many more getting laid off.

The answer is now fairly clear.  Indeed lots of layoffs are happening and probably will for some time to come.  But, not only have those numbers been falling, but the ongoing layoffs are increasingly concentrated in certain sectors, such as education where net hiring was negative in May.  Indeed, we are likely to see a surge of layoffs in the local and state government sectors as those have not seen revenues rise and are not getting federal aid and also face balanced budget constraints.

However, hiring has been going on in other sectors, not publicly reported until today. Among those are hospitality and tourism, construction, and manufacturing (hence rising oil demand and carbon emissions).  Some numbers I have seen on some blogs, so not sure they are accurate, include a claim that a full 54% of the hiring occurred in the restaurant sector.  Yes, there have been a lot of reopenings there, if still somewhat limited.  Another odd figure Tyler Cowen reports on MR is that supposedly 10% of the new jobs are in the dentistry sector. Really? Who am I to say.

I do note that by some alternative procedures than reported, the unemployment rate should be 3% higher than reported, and thus would have increased.  Nevertheless, it does seem that there was a net increase in jobs during May.

What does this portend for the future?  I remain doubtful of a "V" shaped recovery, despite a lot of crowing about such today. This growth is so far fairly slow, and the decline in the unemployment rate not all that dramatic.  The pandemic is still expanding in some states, with Florida hitting a new daily high for new cases on Wednesday, even if new cases are gradually declining nationally.  Even if there is no second wave, fear of such and the continuing presence of the virus will hinder rapid growth for some time, probably at least through most of the third quarter. But I would say that the probability of a "U" shaped recovery has probably risen, with a possibly much more rapid growth rate in the crucial fourth quarter if indeed the virus continues not only to decline but to really stay down, thus reducing peoples' fears and allowing them to really get out there and spend and "go back to (almost) normal."

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Has Trump Created A Praetorian Guard In Washington?

President Trump has already shown his Orwellian tendencies by giving a speech on Monday in the Rose Garden in which he dcclared his "respect" for peaceful protesters at the very moment that forces ultimately responding to an order by Trump violently attacked peaceful protesters in front of the White House to remove them from Lafayette Square, as well as priests and parishioners from the patio of their St. John's Church across from the White House.  This attack and removal of the protesters as well as church people allowed Trump to walk across the square fot photo op at the church, holding up a Bible backwards and upside down.  While it has been admitted that ultimately this attack reflected Trump wanting to have this photo op, it remains unclear precisely which federal forces were part of the attack and exactly who was immediately commanding them.  It seems at a minimum that this involved federal Park Police, but may have included DC National Guard, and maybe  Secret service personnel, as well as maybe others, although no DC police or officials, with Mayor Bowswe opposing this action.

Mosr seem to think that AG Barr gave the immediate order, but he does not seem to official authority over  several of these groups, notably the Secret Service.  SecDef Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Milley were present during Trump's walk across the square, but are now apparently claiming not to have any responsibiliy for this.  Esper and Milley have since come under strong criticism by many people either in the GOP such as the Lincoln Project group as well as current and former high DOD officials, including James Miller who publicly resigned from the DOD Science Board in protest as well as a strong memo by former SecDef "Mad Dog" Mattis.

However, possibly the most disturbing development out of this has been the appearance of unidentified figures, some in uniforms of some sort, some not, who seem to be acting to control protestors and keep them out of various public areas.  These may have participated in the attack on Monday, but they would have been just part of groups that were identifiable, even if they were acting illegally and with unclear authority.  However, these people are much more mysterious, although when asked who they are, a few have said they are from the "Department of Justice," which is of course overseen by AG Barr.  Is he overseeing a new Praetorian Guard that is beyond the Secret Service to do Trump's will?

There are two clear actions these mysterious figures have been involved in.  One was to line up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to keep the public out.  Why were they doing this?  Nobody seems to know.  But they were in camouflage and armed.  At least they do not seem to be militsry from the DOD.

The other place they have been seriously and obviously present, although they have been reported to be wandering around time harassing protesters, is around the White House itself, where they seem to have superseded the Secret Service more clearly.  They have been the agents expanding the perimeter around the WH within which even peaceful protesters are not allowed.  It is pretty clear they do not have the legal right to do this, but nobody is stopping them.  Here they are showing their potential Praetorian Guard role, personal protectors and agents of the president, operating anonymously without authority, but willing to do is direct bidding.  I am wondering if they will be disbanded when things quiet down, or will they still be around in November when the election comes.

There are various speculatons about who these are.  One theory is that they are federal prison guards.  Another is that they are from ICE, a specially trained force.  There is also a report today that Barr has just granted the DEA extraordinary authority to surveil protsters, although maybe these anonymous figures in the streets are not DEA.  A final even weirder theory is that they are a private group ultimately under EdSec De Vos or her brother, Eric Prince.  The idea that we might have private security group assuming law enforcement authority in Washington against the wishes of the mayor and hiding itss identity is most disturbing.

Addnda, 6/4:

This morning's Washington Post reports that apparently the unidentified forces include US Marshalls and some FBI personnel, all of these part of the Dept.of Justice. Apparently AG Barr has been commanding this Praetorian Guard from FBI HQ.  Meanwhile, Pres. Trump has been adding more layers of fences around the White House.

More Addenda: The new fences around the WH now enclose St. John's Church. When the Episcopal bishop of DC showed up with some folks to hold a vigil on the church grounds, the Praetorian Guard refused to let them in to do so. They ended up sitting on the ground nearby to hold their vigil.

More recently, AG Barr held a presser in which we learned that ATF agents are also involved in all this, although mostly "to enforce gun rights." It came out that a lot of these PGs with no IDs on them are indeed prison guards, with their chief saying "we mostly work inside prisons so do not need IDs.," to which Barr added something like "So they do not like to answer people asking who they are."  Right.  Also, apparently, the only "group" behind all the violence, is "antifa," something FBI Director Wray confirmed, even though a day or two ago the FBI itself said it found no evidence of this nonexistent group doing anythign.

Barkley Rosser

Global Oil Demand Rises

Back on April 20 we saw briefly the bizarre appearance of negative oil prices in certain markets. Today for the first time in many months Brent crude briefly topped $40 per barrel, although it fell back below that level (WTI is tending to be about $3 behind it, despite a single day recently when for the first time in years it nearly matched Brent crude at only 18 cents lower). However, it looks like the recent trend of global oil prices rising will continue some more, with prices likely to go above $40 and stay there.  How far beyond that I shall not forecast.  But this is a price level where many oil exporting nations can get out of immediate financial crisis, with many of them actually making money, if not as much as they would with still higher prices.

One element of this price rise is on the supply side, especially with Saudi Arabia and Russia apparently maintaining a production cut agreement they have.  Rumors from suggest there may be cheating on these agreements to come. But for now these two are holding the line on the supply side.

More important has been the increase on the demand side, which looks set to continue rising for at least the near future. I have posted previously on how global carbon emissions appear to have bottomed around April 7, with them rising since, if still well below pre-pandemic levels.  Burning fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions, so it is quite possible that oil demand has been rising since around then, even though it was 10 days after then that oil prices did their brief plunge into negative territory.

According  to it is China that is leading this increase in oil demand.  It was the first economy to drop due to the pandemic, with its oil demand declining about 40% during February. However, it looks that China's demand has returned as of May to a level 92% of its peak prior to the pandemic. That is substantial, while leaving more room for further growth.

Another nation with a large economy making an even sharper turnaround is India. In early April at the beginning of its two month lockdown its demand declined by 60%, but now it is estiimated that in June its demand will return fully to its pre-pandemic level.

US demand has also made a turnaround, although it did not decline as much and is recovering more slowly. But its demand is rising and will almost certainly continue to do so, if not at a rate that would happen if there were a V-style economic recovery.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, June 1, 2020

Ironies Of Minneapolis

In 1944 the Minnesota Democratic Party united with the Farmer-Labor Party to form the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, one of the most progressive state branches of the US Democratic Party.  In 1948 its mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey introduced at the national convention the resolution supporting civil rights for African-Americans whose acceptance led to a walkout by Strom Thurmond and other Dixiecrats, with Thurmond running for president against Truman.  Humphrey would later become a famously progressive US senator and eventually LBJ's vice president, which dragged him down due to the Vietnam War.

He was succeeded by equally progressive Arthur Naftalin as Minneapolis mayor, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, who served until 1969.  However, for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, the attempted progressive policies of these majors did not result in excellent conditions for the city's then quite small African American population, who lived in highly segregated neighborhoods. Whatever progress did happen was substantially damaged by Naftalin's successor as mayor, Charles Stenvig, the city's police chief, who ran on a platform that demanded to "take the handcuffs off the police" and promised to crack down on "racial militants." He was reelected in 1971, and many see him being a major influence in the police department of Minneapolis becoming an exceptionally racist and vicious one.

All this is recounted in a 2008 paper that appeared in the journal American Studies by Jeffrey T. Manuel and Andrew Urban, "'You Can't Legislate the Heart': Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig and the Politics of Law and Order." vol. 43, issue 3/4, pp. 195-219.

Furthermore, with African-Americans moving more into the city in more recent years, the gap between educational outcome as well income and employment outcomes between the races has increased to be among the highest in the nation, despite the liberal past and reputation of the city.  These facts contribute to the bad racial situation in the city, which combined with the racist police department have led to this awful current situation there.

A source on the educational gap is mprnews.or/story/2019/10/14/mn-among-worst-achievmentgap-states , and a source on the income and employment gas is , this latter also dealing with bad racial police behavior in Minneapolis.

I thank Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for these sources, and this general account, which I did not know of.  This is indeed a sad tale, given the proud and generally admirable history of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, May 29, 2020

Meanwhile, As Minneapolis Burns

So now we are all focused on the recent horrific murder in Minneapolis and now the subsequent events that are happening in many parts of the nation, with Minneapolis the epicenter.  This is serious, and I have idea how it will end.  This has even distracted us from the usual pandemic and economic issues, which are historically serious.

But while all this has been going on, just in the past week or so our president has been engaging in a series of serious actions that will have long run serious consequences people are barely aware of if they are not undone.  It is almost as if he is just outright melting down his presidency and taking the nation with him, although we are too busy looking at the flames in Minneapolis to notice.

Here is a list without comment. The US will withdraw from the Open Skies  agreement, first proposed by President Eisenhower, that has 35 other signatories.  The administration claims the Russians are breaking the treaty, although the specific offenses publicized seem to have nothing to do with this treaty at all.  This follows Trump withdrawing us from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, the the TPP, and the Iran JCPOA nuclear deal that Iran was adhering to.  Today it was announced that the US will withdraw from the World HealthOrganization. The administration is proposing changing the status of Hong Kong in connection with the US as well as psosibly forcing Chinese corporations to leave the New York stock exchange, not to mention that the daughter of the CEO of Huawei is about to be extradited to the US to be prosecuted for fraud in connection with violating US sanctions against Iran. Another round of EPA regulations are to be ended. Trump refuses to provide aid to the US Postal Service, which might go bankrupt later this year, with Trump declaring that voting by mail is a rigged fraud. He has also issued an executive order to alllow the FTC to make social media subject to lawsuits by his conservative allies. And then also today it was announced that his official pandemic task force is now effectively not functional.

There  is more, but all that is more than quite enough.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Death And The Pandemic Economy

The relation between death and the pandemic economy is a fraught one that has become hotly debated, although with not much clear empirical evidence.  I note that recently over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has had a series of posts on this matter in various forms.  Obviously a big issue has been the claim by the anti-lockdown crowd that not reopening the economy quickly will lead to an increase in suicides by the increasingly large numbers of unemployed people out there.  There certainly have been many studies in the past showing a variety of bad social outcomes from high unemployment, including suicides, domestic abuse, drug abuse, depression, and more. There does seem to be some strong evidence of several of these notably higher domestic abuse and depression. 

When it comes to suicide and death more broadly, the empirical picture is very murky.  Menzie in one of his recent posts reported on a regression he ran covering monthly data from 1998 to very recently that used dummies for months and then unemployment rates and suicides (in the US) and found the an unexpected "wrong sign" with lower suicides correlated with higher unemployment, although this was not a statistically significant result. He provides no explanation for why this odd result seems to be there, but it does show that this is not a simple matter.

Regarding current data on the main question, so far there does not seem to be any data showing a noticeable rise in suicides in the US since the pandemic, with only reports of some increases among medical personnel, who have suffered from overwork, stress, and even guilt, along with fear.  That we might be seeing that out of them is completely understandable. 

So why might we not be seeing much increase in suicides so far despite all the things going on such as increased depression as well as unemployment and more that would suggest we might expect to see it?  Some have suggested a "wartime" effect: people are suffering, but they know others are as well and so rally around the flag to hang in there. This rally around the flag effect even worked for awhile to boost Trump's polls for a few weeks in late March and early April until people saw how we was botching things, and now his polls are lower than they were before, even as those of some generally unpopular leaders in other hardhit nations like Italy, France, and Spain have seen their poll numbers continue to be noticeably higher than they were previously.

Another element, suggested to me by my medically connected daughters, not all that different from the above, is that people who are depressed feel "validated" because now others appreciate their condition. This is especially relevant for veterans suffering from PTSD and so on. 

Before proceeding further, let me note that there are some factors that may lower the death rate during a recession that can offset to some degree, with the importance of these matters of ongoing debate.  Probably the most important is the reduction of pollution, which is estimated to kill 200,000 to 300,000 people per year in the US.  Obviously pollution reductions now in the US are not going to offset all of that or even most of that, but presumably it does some.  An estimate in more heavily polluted China has claimed that the reduction of pollution there due to the pandemic might have saved up to 50,000 to 100,000 lives.  That is clearly a large number, and way exceeds the number of people in China who died of the coronavirus.

I note on this my earlier post that apparently at the global level carbon emissions have been estimated to have declined by 17% to a bottom point near April 7, with them rising gradually since with a likely gradual recovery of the world economy (with the US lagging on both the virus and the economic recovery). Probably carbon emissions are highly correlated with other forms of pollution, so this looks like a pretty good indicator of timing on that one, at least globally.

Two other items that have been brought up as reducing deaths during a lockdown/recession are auto deaths and work-related deaths.  It is probably true that we have seen some reductions of those in the US in the last few months, but I have yet to see any sort of reliable data on them.  Both of those have been trending downwards in recent years gradually in the US, with auto deaths in 2019 a bit over 36,000 with work-related deaths at about 5,100 (construction is the largest with over 1000).  Suicides last year were at about 48,000 in the US, so larger than those two put together, but as of now we do not know how any of these have changed recently.

I would add that on this matter of auto versus suicide deaths, the US picture is quite different from the global picture, although there is reason to be skeptical about some of the international data on suicides, which get covered up in many natinos (but also in the US to some extent for insurance reasons). Anyway, as of last year global auto deaths were estimated to be about 1.35 million while suicides were at a much lower 800,000.  Almost certainly why we have more suicides than auto deaths in the US unlike the rest of the world is that we have way more guns per capita than any other nation, and it is well established in the US that across states there is a strong correlation between guns per capita and suicide rates.

On a speculative note, given that pretty much the entire US is now engaging in varying degrees of reopening despite very few states having actually met the CDC guidelines for doing so, that we may see a perverse effect of an increase in suicides in the near future, even as the economy expands, which it certainly has been now for some time, maybe even as long as a month.  For one thing, unemployment continues to rise, despite the economy growing (and the stock market rising especially strongly).  But another effect may be the ending of that "wartime" effect.  People who are depressed and unemployed may lose that feeling of solidarity and as they fail to get jobs and may become homeless due to failures to pay rent, and so on, they may become more seriously depressed and feeling isolated.  I can well imagine such an effect leading to more suicides, although I do not know.

I will make a completely anecdotal observation that somehow this week I have observed several people both that I am in close contact with as well as some more distant, who seem to have sort of been freaking out this week.  This is probably just an odd bad luck of the draw, but I am a bit worried that it may reflect my speculation in the previous paragraph, and that whether or not we see more suicides, we may see an increase in the near term of people getting less happy and more depressed.  if that is happening, let us  hope that it ends soon. This pandemic has been bad enough.

Barkley Rosser

More On "Obamagate!"

Just three items.

1) Today (or yesterday late?) AG William Barr appointed yet another Special Counsel to investigate "Obamagate!" John Bash of the Texas Western District of the DOJ. He has been assigned to investigate the various unmaskings of Michael Flynn that happened between the election of 2016 and Flynn's interrogation by the FBI after Trump became president in January, 2017. The full absurdity of this is that even Barr in making this assignment recognized that there is nothing illegal about unmasking, not even anything improper.  Nevertheless, he thinks this particular set of unmaskings needs further investigation by the Department of Justice.

2) This is really just an extension of the first.  Not only are unmaskings normal and legal, but for the particular telephone calls on Dec. 29 that Flynn lied to the FBI about on Jan. 24, he was not even masked. Those were wiretapped by the FBI itself and never masked him. This makes this whole huffing about unmasking of Flynn all the more ridiculous. But then, when all these people say Flynn was somehow pressured into a plea bargain by the FBI on Jan. 24, well, he could have avoided all of this if he had simply not lied to the FBI.  Again, for the umpteenth time, I do not get why a former DIA director did not realize his phone calls with the Russian ambassador would be tapped with the FBI and others finding out about them and listening to them. What on earth did he think he was doing when he engaged in that lying (as well as the lying to Pence that got him fired from the Trump admin).

3) I shall note that while it is no longer the top or dominating story, the Fox News propaganda machine continues to spend regular and considerable time on this matter, still calling it "Obamagate" and pushing on the idea that Obama is guilty of something awful, setting up Flynn to lie to the FBI or something.  Hannity has cut it back, but this stuff still consumes a good quarter or so of his time nightly without a hint that any of it, much less pretty much the whole thing aside from a couple of botched FISA applications, is just a giant nothingburger. It may be that the cutback represents a realization that this is not catching on more broadly, not to mention it is stupid to go after the most popular political figure in the nation, but it probably is still going as fodder for the Trump base who have been sold this bill of goods, and the sale needs to be kept from being returned to the store.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Compromise on Liability

So Mitch McConnell and the senate Republicans want blanket employer liability protection as the price of another round of economic support.  They have this leverage because Democrats kept postponing their agenda until they were the only ones with a list of things they wanted to spend money on.

(This illustrates classic bargaining theory to a T.  Bargaining power depends on how much you think you will lose if the agreement is delayed [Rubinstein] or fails completely.  Democrats feared economic damage to the public if bailout bills weren’t approved immediately.  Once the financial markets were backstopped Republicans considered the rest to be low stakes.  Hence the strong tilt to McConnell et al.)

So here is a possible Democratic counter:

OK, you want liability protection.  Let’s give it to any employer, large or small, that sets up a health and safety committee to oversee protections on the job, elected by the whole workforce, one person one vote.  If protections are consensual, liability is waived.  Otherwise proceed at your own risk.

This would be good policy, and it has the political advantage of placing liability within a larger, readily communicable frame about participation and consent.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism.  Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines.  No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers.  Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China.  Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune.  The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.

So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors.  The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate the ones that might be true from the purely crazy.

In the public interest, I offer the following rule of thumb.  A conspiracy, of course, is an agreement by a group of insiders to keep something important secret from the public.  If the group is tightly organized, motivated and able to operate separately from those on the outside, it is capable of waging a conspiracy.  If you relax these assumptions, however, you need additional groups to hide the initial conspiracy—in other words, secondary conspiracies.  And if the secondary conspirators aren’t tight enough a third ring of conspiracies is required.  As soon as you find yourself imagining lots of interlocking conspiracies to keep the central one secret you’ve wandered over the line.

Let’s see how this works in a pair of examples.  For nearly six decades people have debated whether JFK’s assassination was the work of a conspiracy.  I don’t have any particular insight to add, but the kind of plot laid out in David Talbot’s The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government is at least plausible.  It’s reasonable to think a secret team of intelligence officials might have carried it out, and if new leads emerge they should be followed up on.  That’s because it would take just one fairly small secret action to execute the plot and prevent disclosure: the agents Talbot identifies were closely connected and in the habit of frequently walling themselves off from those outside the club.  If the assassination was a CIA hit, a single conspiracy is all it would take to bring it about.

Now consider the claim that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by a cabal of scientists eager to increase their funding, impose a socialist world order or both.  What would it take for them to do this?  First, there are a lot of climate scientists out there, thousands.  They would all have to be in on it.  Second, scientific research is not a secretive activity, sequestered from the unwashed.  There would have to be ancillary conspiracies among all those who communicate or work in conjunction with the climate plotters: the lab techs, the university research administrators, the journal editors, the funding agencies.  You need all these conspiracies to keep the central one secret.  And then what about all the people the secondary conspirators come into contact with?  How can you prevent other university officials from finding out that some of their colleagues are in cahoots with a nefarious climate plot?  Now you’re talking about third-order conspiracies; hell, the whole damn school has to be in on it.  Any one conspiracy is a stretch, but if you need conspiracies to cover up the conspiracies that cover up—well, you see the problem.

This can be summarized in a simple test: does the proposed conspiracy entail a small enough number of tightly connected people that only one circle of silence can keep it a secret?  If so, maybe you are on to something.  If not, if it’s conspiracies all the way down, stay away.

UPDATE: The time lapse between the Kennedy assassination and now has been fixed.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"Dr. Doom" At It Again: Predicts 10-Year Depression

That would be Nouriel Roubini of NYU who got his moniker back during the Great Recession, which he called pretty well in 2006.  He did this clearly yesterday in an interview in The Intelligencer, although he has been pushing something like this for some time now, bringing in all sorts of things like climate change and more pandemics to reinforce this long run forecasr, although he thinks in a decade there may be a sufficient restrucuting of the economy to improve the situation.  While he mostly does not talk about what should or could be done in the US, he seems to improve of a German type economy where the unemployment rate has risen only 1% in comparison to the massive increase towards 20%  we have sseen in the US.  Of course, Germany has managed the coronavirus much better than has the US, but they also have their Kurtzarbeit labor system that tends to preserve employment better during downturns, not to mention a broader social safety net as part of its social market economy.  He says things might have been better if we had Bernie Sanders as president, but then notes that compared to Merkel in Germany and even Boris Johnson in UK, Sanders is a right winger.

Roubini thinks that various policy stimuli put in place in the US will lead to a temporary period of growth, but that this will pan out fairly soon with growth turning negative, leading to something more like an L or U shaped pattern.  The key will be massive defaulting on debts as the impact of maassive unemployment works its way through via lots of non-payment on servicing those debts.  He also argues that a factor in the longer term depression will be a resurgence of inflation partly due to the negative supply-side aspects of the depression due to deglobalization and higher costs of new technology, exacerbated by an emerging US-China cold war that will have the US paying more for 5G systems. This will in turn lead to higher interest rates, and these will add to the tanking of the debt load, which he notes could not stand it when the Fed wanted to push the fed funds rate above 2.5% at end of 2018 when the economy was doing very well.

I do not know if he is right, and I  have seen a least one wisecracker argue that Roubini has predicted "the last 15 recessions out of 1," but I do see some serious dangers ahead if mor is not done to provide support for those out of work and small businesses.  Ending of enhance unemployment benefits in a situation of widespread unemployment in July would provide a negative shock, and another negative shock is beginning to come out of state and local governments as they deal with their mounting budget crises by massive layoffs.  Unlike the federal government they cannot run budget deficits, and tax revenues are and will be way down, which points to the need for some serious federal aid to them.  This was provided in the 2009 stimulus, of which about a third was such aid to state and local governments, although even that did not prevent those governments from continuing to be a drag on growth until as late as 2013. But as of now the Senate following Trump is refusing to move on this, invoking some sort of fantasy that it is only blue states having fiscal problems.  As it is, most analyses see the shock to state and local finances being much larger now than then.

Roubini may be overdoing his "Dr. Doom" routine, but he certainly points out to dangers to what so far is at best a barely there nascent recovery.

Barkley Rosser

For The Record About These Ads

Yet again I am upset that we are getting ads for Trump here.  I have made an inquiry to a knowledgeable person, and I have not been given a clear explanation for why all these ads are appearing here, with there seeeming to be more and more of them all the time.  I do wish to say that I do not believe any of us are getting  any money for any of this; I certainly am not.  And I wish they would go away.  But I do not know how to do it, and nobody else around here that I have communicated with seems to know either, although I suppose it is possible somebody has done something to let this happen and is getting money.  But if they are, they are covering it up.

So, I apologize to one and all who find the ads either annoying or, worse yet, downright offensive, which is how I view the Trump ones.  Sorry about this.

Barkley Rosser

Woke Is Reactionary: The Small Business Lending Edition

We live in a drastically unequal society.  Everywhere you look you will find injustice, constraint and exploitation.  Being a member of a racial or other minority increases the odds you will end up on the short end, so what should we do about it?  There’s a progressive solution, to change the system so injustice, constraint and exploitation are minimized.  And then there’s the woke solution, to demand benefits targeted to minorities (and women) that will more evenly distribute the injustice, constraint and exploitation that remains.

You can support the woke solution, but please don’t confuse it with progressive social change.

For a current example, look at this recent op-ed in the New York Times by Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet, “How We Spend Tells Us Whose Lives Matter”.  They point out, “only 12 percent of the black and Latino [small business] owners in a survey who applied for aid reported receiving what they had asked for.”  I don’t know how that compares to white/Anglo owners, and no link is provided to the source they relied on.  But let’s assume with them this means minority SB owners have been disadvantaged in the expanded lending program to counter the effects of the coronavirus.  Knowing this country, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true.

Two reasons are given for the disparity.  First, minority-owned businesses are less likely to have an existing loan relationship with a bank, and private banks are being used to funnel loans authorized by Congress.  Second, these businesses have slimmer reserves and are less able to survive the process of application, review and disbursement.  Again, let’s assume this analysis is correct.

The progressive solution would be to either impose greater obligations on the private banking system or bypass it altogether in administering the program.  If commercial banks are to be deputized to distribute public funds they should be required to do so not just for their existing clients but their share of the applicant pool, and streamlined procedures should be in place to get the money out the door as quickly as possible.  Or perhaps it would have been possible to forego using commercial banks altogether (or in part) and to quickly ramp up a dedicated lending facility operating in conjunction with the Fed or a specialized government agency.  (How much easier all of this would have been if we had a nationwide public banking system already in place.)

And then there’s the woke solution: “providing dedicated funding opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, and within that funding pool, for women of color-owned businesses.”  So the inadequacies and unfairness of the lending arrangement are OK as long as they don’t disproportionately fall on these groups.  I suppose white business owners locked out of the deal can console themselves with their privilege.

Again, the woke program is a choice some may make; it’s goal is to take the racism and sexism out exploitation.  Just don’t confuse social justice with a more equally distributed injustice.