Unemployment passes 30m with last week's 3.8m new filers

3.8m workers signed on for the first time last week, bringing America's unemployed headcount to 30m. The number of new filers was down from 4.4m last week, a slow dropoff that suggests layoffs will continue at an unprecedented scale for weeks to come.

Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it’s by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers.

With more employers cutting payrolls to save money, economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%. That would be the highest rate since it reached 25% during the Great Depression.

They aren't even packaging charts with these stories anymore, because it's just a flat line that becomes a vertical line at the end and no-one wants to look at it anymore. Read the rest

Raising money for a UBI fund that helps families affected COVID-19

I'm a huge fan of GiveDirectly, who does tremendous work with direct cash transfers for people in poverty — essentially, micro-scale experiments in Universal Basic Income, with long-term data impact studies. As they describe themselves:

GiveDirectly is the first — and largest — nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest. We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice. Since 2009, we’ve delivered over $140 million in cash directly into the hands of over 130,000 families living in poverty. Cash allows individuals to invest in what they need, instead of relying on aid organizations and donors thousands of miles away to choose for them. Isn’t this what you would prefer?

Despite the fact that UBI has such a wide range of support — from Nixon to MLK, from Socialists to Libertarians — many people are still resistant to the idea of no-strings-attached monthly cash payments in lieu of other poverty-assistance/welfare programs. I think this largely has to do with America's 300-year experiment in villainizing the poor. But time and time again, UBI experiments have demonstrated that people do not waste their money on drugs and alcohol. They do tend to work about 5-7% fewer hours on average, but they fill the rest of their days by finding new ways to be productive and contribute to society without succumbing to soul-sucking jobs. Instead of stressing to make ends meet through desperate wage-slave labor, they invested their time, money, and energy into things like education and entrepreneurship, which makes everyone happier overall. Read the rest

The retail TP shortage may be real and due to the shift in where we poop

I have, several times, heard the reasonable-sounding theory that America's at work pooping minimized the need for THAT MUCH retail toilet paper. Purportedly there are tons and tons of business-grade TP piling up unused.

What Everyone’s Getting Wrong About the Toilet Paper Shortage

There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper — one that has gone oddly overlooked in the vast majority of media coverage. It has nothing to do with psychology and everything to do with supply chains. It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase.

In short, the toilet paper industry is split into two, largely separate markets: commercial and consumer. The pandemic has shifted the lion’s share of demand to the latter. People actually do need to buy significantly more toilet paper during the pandemic — not because they’re making more trips to the bathroom, but because they’re making more of them at home. With some 75% of the U.S. population under stay-at-home orders, Americans are no longer using the restrooms at their workplace, in schools, at restaurants, at hotels, or in airports.

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There will be no new comic books in any stores "until further notice," thanks to coronavirus.

Diamond Comics is the exclusive shipping and distribution source for all weekly comic books. Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Boom! — they all send their single-issues to comic book stores through Diamond.

Due to coronavirus concerns, however, the company has halted all shipments for the foreseeable future.

Comic book stores can still sell other merchandise, as well as some graphic novels, trade paperbacks, collected editions, and other bound book-style publications. Single-issues will also continue to be available digitally through Comixology, as most publishers have already announced their solicitations for new comics through at least June.

But what this means for the future of the comic book industry remains to be seen. While graphic novels and trade paperbacks of single issues have continued to increase in popularity, those single weekly issues remain the backbone of the industry, just as they've been for the last 50+ years. The entire serialized structure of the medium depends on it. Even if you prefer to pick up the collected editions of SAGA (also known as "waiting for the trade"), the comic still benefits from the 6 months of promotion that it gets every time a new single issue is released. Each single issue sells around 40,000 copies, compared to 1-2,000 copies per graphic novel (although the first trade paperback continues to sell more than 1,000 copies per month on average, based on a quick glance through Diamond's sales charts). Self-contained graphic novels — those that are created and released as a single, cohesive entity, instead of as a collection of single issues — rarely sell as well as collected trade paperbacks. Read the rest

Stocks plunge after Trump travel ban; NYSE suspends trading

The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading shortly after opening today as markets fell hard and fast over the European travel ban announced last night by President Donald Trump. The Dow Jones fell 1700 points (7%), a drop matched by the S&P 500 and NASDAQ indexes.

US stocks sold off sharply for the second straight day after President Donald Trump banned European travel to the United States. Wall Street investors are worried about the scale of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences. ...

Trading is halted for 15 minutes when when the index hits first two circuit breakers: a drop of 7% and again when it falls 13%. A circuit breaker can be triggered only once per day, so if the S&P drops 7% upon the re-open, the market doesn't close again.

If the index falls 20%, trading is suspended for the rest of the day.

Trump announced the 30-day ban on travel from Europe in a televised address to the nation as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, but he seems to have been confused on some of the details and exemptions as described in the formal announcement. Chaos reigns.

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Fatal car wrecks are correlated with stock-market fluctuations

Writing in The Journal of Health Economics, three economists claim (Sci Hub mirror) that "a one standard deviation reduction in daily stock market returns is associated with a 0.6% increase in fatal car accidents that happen after the stock market opening" and that this is robust across "a battery of falsification tests." Read the rest

Canada legalized pot. Beer consumption there dropped.

“Volume decline accelerated in 2019, down 3% through November.”

The new availability of a wide array of legal marijuana products has is beginning to take a bite out of beer consumption in Canada, reports Bloomberg News. Read the rest

Bernie Sanders got the GAO to study the life chances of millennials, and the report concludes that debt is "crushing their dreams"

Bernie Sanders commissioned the Government Accountability Office to study the consequences of the high degree of indebtedness borne by Millennials; the GAO's report concludes that Millennials dreams are being "crushed" by debts -- primarily student loans -- which have limited their abilities to seek good employment, good housing, and to save for retirement. Read the rest

MMT: when does government deficit spending improve debt-to-GDP ratios?

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) (previously) is an alternative to neoclassical economics that holds that sovereign states that issue their own currency can't default on debts denominated in that currency (if you are the sole source of Canadian dollars and all your debts are in Canadian dollars, you can always pay those debts), and that deficit spending is normal (every dollar in circulation was "deficit spent," since the money to pay taxes enters the economy when the government spends it into existence), and that inflation isn't a mere function of government spending -- but rather, inflation occurs when governments and the private sector are bidding against each other for the same goods and services. Read the rest

Profile of Mariana Mazzucato, the economist who's swaying both left and right politicians with talk of "the entrepreneurial state"

Mariana Mazzucato (previously) came to prominence after the publication of her 2013 book The Entrepreneurial State, which described the way that robust state spending on large-scale R&D was critical to the kinds of commercial technological "breakthroughs" that the private sector liked to take credit for, and argued that the decades-long drawdown in public spending on the theory that governments were bloated and inefficient had stalled economic growth and technological progress because private firms systematically underinvest in research. Read the rest

A layperson-friendly introduction to MMT, a heterodox school of economics that could finance a Green New Deal

Modern Monetary Theory (AKA MMT) is the latest incarnation of a long-running current in economic thought, once called Chartalism, which has gained prominence in recent years as an alternative to austerity economics, whose dictates have immiserated millions, destabilized world politics, and threaten the extinction of the human race thanks to climate inaction in the guise of "fiscal restraint." Read the rest

Learning to See the Commons

[[Generations of propaganda about the instability of "the commons" and the desirability of assigning property rights in everything has led the human race into a very dark place: now, two scholars, David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, have published Free, Fair and Alive, which offers a critique of the "Tragedy," case studies of working commons, and a path to a better world based on shared resources and commons-based production. -Cory]]

Could we please, finally, lay to rest the tendentious "tragedy of the commons" fairy tale that has poisoned the minds of at least two generations? The accurate story about the commons deals with its ability to address the intractable problems of our time -- wasteful economic growth, predatory markets, the climate emergency, savage inequality. The commons offers practical ways to develop non-capitalist social systems that meet needs while helping rebuild our ecosystems and create a sense of belonging.

This was a key reason why we wrote Free, Fair and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons. At some point, Big Deceptions such as the "tragedy" fable become so deeply rooted they need to be confronted and debunked. One way to do this is to recognize the social realities and political potential of actual commons.

Why are we still treating economics as if it were an empirical science that makes reliable predictions?

Robert Skidelsky is an eccentric British economist: trained at Oxford, author of a definitive three-volume biography of Keynes, a Lord who sat with the Tories as their economics critic during the Blair regime, who now sits as an independent who is aligned with Labour's left wing. Back in September, Yale University Press published Skidelsky's latest book, Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics, a retelling of the history of economics as a discipline that seeks to uncover how economics' failings created the 2008 crisis and have only made things worse since. Read the rest

Washington establishment freaks out as Modern Monetary Theory gains currency

Modern Monetary Theory (previously) is an economic philosophy based on the idea that all state spending is "deficit" spending, since money comes into existence when the government spends it, and when the government raises taxes, it does so in order to take that money out of existence, both in order to control inflation and to limit the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy. Read the rest

The median household income of each state in the USA

New US Census Bureau data shows that while the median household income for the United States (and 14 states within the USA) increased a bit from 2017 to 2018, "income inequality was significantly higher during the same period for the nation and nine states.... Maryland ($83,242) was among the states with the highest median household income and West Virginia ($44,097) was among the lowest."

More data and an interactive version of the map: "2018 Median Household Income in the United States" (Census.gov)

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Piketty on the "Brahmin left" and the "merchant right"

Thomas Piketty, the French economist behind 2014's game-changing Capital in the 21st Century, has a new book, Capital and Ideology (out in France now, coming in English in 2020), which uses the same long-run economic series that Capital 21C benefited from to understand the relationship between wealth and ideology. Central to Piketty's thesis: that it's not enough to use class to understand how people vote -- you also have to take account of peoples' beliefs about class (this is a neat way of resolving the tension between traditional left class analysis and contemporary "identitarian" theories of leftist politics). Read the rest

"Productivity" is a perfect example of the pseudscience underpinning economics

Economists are famously fragile about their field; after all, this is the field that created a fake Nobel prize to give its practitioners the veneer of credibility and empiricism that actual sciences enjoy. Read the rest

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