The way things look ...
alt= puppy peeking through porch spindles Ocean City boardwalk at night pool closed for season Cmas tree refleceted in glass paperweight (estab. 1999)

Presidential Job Approval
Gallup Wkly: 45% - 4/10/19)
US Economic Confidence Index -7.3)
Conference Board - 3/26/19
Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate: 63.0%
Bureau of Labor Statistics -Mar. 2019

Tax Reform
IV Q 17
I Q 18 II Q 18 III Q 18 IV Q 18 I Q 19
Priv Sect Emp
125,294 125,904 126,571 127,094 127,858
+3,003 (2.4%)!
Priv Sect Wages
($, wkly avg.)
919.08 924.60 930.81 939.78 948.06
+36.65 (4.0%)!
(% un-annualized)**
18,223.8 18,324.0 18,511.6 18,665.0 18,765.3
Non-Res Fixed Inv
(% un-annualized)**
2,582.7 2,654.0 2,708.9 2,727.0 2,763.3
Fed Receipts
$ (bil.)
770 732 1,046† 771 787
-36 (-4.7%)
$ (bil.)
-225 -373
-288 -317
59 worse
* % +/(-) baseline
! $ (bil) bet/worse than baseline
** chained 2012 $ (bil)
† Apr inc. tax receipts

 3/16/19 -- A Great Day for the Irish, Again 

They've got one in Honolulu, they've got one in Moscow too.
They got four of them in Sydney and a couple in Kathmandu.
So whether you sing or pull a pint you'll always have a job,
'Cause wherever you go around the world you'll find an Irish pub.

Irish Pub Song, The High Kings, 2013

And, evidently, a parade. That old adage that   everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day is truer than you might realize.

The feast day of Ireland's patron saint is observed with public celebrations in many of the world's major cities, including several you wouldn't necessarily think of as unduly Irish. Herewith, some samplings.

New York hosts the world's largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration. More than two million people will watch the parade up Fifth Ave., this year on March 16. It lasts about six hours and features bands, bagpipes, and no floats. The city's parade tradition dates back to 1762; the first marchers were British soldiers. (Well, Irish soldiers in the British military.) You can watch New York's parade Streaming starts around 11 am.

Dublin celebrates St. Patrick’s Day over five days with boat races, an Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival, music and street performances and a parade that attracts about half a million spectators. Major landmarks throughout Dublin, including the Natural History Museum and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, are lit with a green glow for the holiday.

In Sydney, the whole city including the famed Opera House turns green for St. Patrick’s Day. The city holds an annual themed parade that dates back more than 200 years.

Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. It's a tradition that dates back to 1961, when the city's parade chairman saw green dye in the river (used to identify sewage problems) and got the idea to color the whole river. On the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, more than 400,000 people gather to watch 45 pounds of environmentally-safe vegetable dye turn the murky river a bright shade of green. Even more spectators gather for a three-hour parade that proceeds from Columbus Drive through Grant Park. The march is televised and streamed locally.

Since its inauguration in 1824, Montreal's St. Patrick’s Day Parade has never been cancelled, regardless of weather. The three-hour festivities take place on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day and include floats, bands, costumes and a massive replica of St. Patrick, which leads the march.

Boston's St. Patrick’s Day parade, a century-old tradition, covers 3.6-miles and lasts about 4 and a half hours. This year they're expecting 122 groups to take part with 24 floats and 27 bands, The Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums and other local bands perform, as well as musicians from Ireland, Spain, Germany, and elsewhere. They expect a million people to show up, in a city with a population of 685,094.

Savannah's celebration of St. Patrick's Day includes a parade with horses and floats, a street party on River Street with vendors and live musical performances, and the Tara Feis Irish Celebration, with crafts, storytellers and musical performances. The city also hosts a number of smaller parades and celebrations starting in mid-February. One special event is the William Jasper Green ceremony, which honors the Irish men who lost their lives in the Siege of Savannah.

London's annual St. Patrick's Day parade travels a 1.5-mile route from Green Park to Trafalgar Square. An all-day festival at Trafalgar Square includes music performances, a food market, fashion show and film festivals.

Montserrat in the British West Indies, often referred to as "the Emerald Isle," is the only place outside of Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is considered a public holiday. Its Irish legacy is rooted in the demographics and social dynamics of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The island's 10-day festival has at different times included a St. Patrick’s Day dinner, a Kite Festival and performances by the Emerald Community Singers Irish Cabaret. March 17 also marks the country’s first slave rebellion, leading to additional African and Caribbean festivities to commemorate the anniversary.

Munich's St. Patrick’s Day parade dates back only to 1995, but its festivities gain more traction each year. The city shuts down Leopold Strasse for the parade with draws about 15,000 participants.

Buenos Aires is not only home to the largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in South America but is also home to the fifth-largest Irish community in the world. The St. Patrick’s Day street festival takes up 10 blocks along Reconquista Street with music and dancing. Their annual parade, which ends at the Plaza San Martín, features Celtic music and a leprechaun costume contest.

Cooking corned beef is pretty easy so long as you have the wit to remember to put it on early. It's little more than tossing a chunk of meat (brisket or round) into simmering water for three hours. They even give you a spice pack with the meat.

Cook the carrots, potatoes, and cabbage wedges as you usually would. Just throw them in the same water after your meat's been on for two and a half hours. Potatoes first. Then the rest 15 min. after. They all finish up at the same time, as very good friends.

To put you in the appropriately festive mood at table, here's a playlist of twenty-some odd Irish ditties for accompaniment. Just in case you don't already a playlist of your own stored somewhere. Click the "high Kings" image.

It's not necessary to bake your own Irish soda bread, although that's pretty easy too. After, it's time for Irish coffee. Coffee, Jameson's (or Tullamore Dew or Bushmills, whatever's on hand), a little sugar and float a dollop of whipped cream on top (out of the can is fine; don't squirt it directly into your mouth).

To finish the night off right, try The Parting Glass* (also by The High Kings) music video (on the YouTube list). It will send you off with a tear in your eye. For those still awake and able to get there unassisted, then time for bed.

And so, goodnight, sweet prince(ss); may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Irish angels. The next St. Patrick's Day is only 365 days off.

*The Parting Glass is actually Scottish in origin. It was the most popular leave-taking song in Scotland before Robert Burns supplanted it with Auld Lang Syne in 1788. The Irish appropriated it and turned it into a drinking song.

 3/12/19 -- Plumbing the President's "Darker Purpose"  

The Tax Reform Scorecard (above) was intended to demonstrate how the White House's dreams for their 2017 tax package were never going to come true.

  • There would be no great jump in GDP. (Actually it did tick up a little.)
  • Corporate tax windfalls weren't going to fuel increased investment in plant and equipment, just fund stock buybacks and executive bonuses. (Spot on.)
  • The Average Joe's take-home pay wasn't going to improve markedly. (It saw a slight boost, although probably as much due to a tight labor market.)
  • Government revenues were more likely to go down than up. (Pretty much flat.)
  • The deficit was not going to be washed away by surging growth. (We're drowing in red ink.)

Almost from the beginning, only the most hard-core Beltway Trumpeteers wasted much oxygen hyping the plan or reciting its touted benefits. Most Republicans stayed mum, hoping the attention would eventually go elsewhere. And it did.

The topic barely came up in mid-term election campaigning. Candidates were not eager to take credit for, or even associate themselves with, it. Even Treasury head Steve Mnuchin has gone quiet on the subject.

Clearly Websitesammy's original plan to continue the scorecard eight quarters just to bear witness to the ineffectual drip, drip, drip no longer serves any purpose. Everyone's caught on by now.

But the thought occurs, is it possible we've missed the whole point all along? Maybe Trump and his cohorts never expected melanges of corporate and high-end tax cuts to really do what they were promising all along. Could the President have been nurturing what King Lear called a "darker purpose"? Many of us thought him not complex enough a political persona for that. But maybe he had something else in mind from the beginning. An old idea near and dear to his fellow Republicans' hearts.

Just recently the president sent his 2020 budget proposal to Congress. It features broad spending cuts totaling $2.7 trillion, the exceptions being a 5% boost in defense spending and $8.6 billion for his "Wall." It slashes spending at a host of federal departments and agencies, including EPA, Education and State His campaign promises not to touch Social Security or Medicare notwithstanding, it proposes reducing Medicare spending by $845 billion over 10 years.

During his 2016 campaign Trump also bragged he'd eliminate the national debt while in office, but his new budget proposal projects it will grow to $31 trillion in 10 years.

So, what's the deal? MSNBC's Ali Velshi thinks he knows. And Bruce Bartlett (former Republican) and Austin Goolsby think he's right. Bartlett was a Treasury official in the Bush Administration and Goolsbee, who could never be confused with a Republican, was chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

They're convinced it's all part of that long-held Republican dream of rolling back the Democrats' jewel box of entitlement programs, which have been stuck in Conservative craws since the time of Roosevelt. The idea, long held by many Republicans, is that without huge deficits to assail, any attempt to attack such popular programs is doomed to failure.

Take a look. Have a listen.

Possibly we've all been too hard on this president, thinking him a witless, visionless naif when it comes to conjuring up a financial philosophy on a grand scale. Maybe he, with a litle help from his friends, had a plan all along: strategic, nuanced and long-term in scope.

Stripped down to its essence it harkens back to liberal complaints from the '60s, echoed by many and epitomized most elegantly by Gore Vidal: "Socialism for the deserving rich, and free enterprise for the undeserving poor." And if you're one of the multitude stuck in the middle, well, that's a bit of bad luck for you.

Okay, so it's a little derivative, but it's still a philosphy. And cherished still by the likes of Mitch McConnell who's been waiting patiently for this moment.

Who knew? Maybe he really is a Repbulican after all.

“   They wanted revenues to fall because they wanted the deficit to rise. Because what they really want to do is cut entitlement programs. And they understand those things are very politically popular. They can only be cut when there is a deficit so large that people are frightened and they feel we have no choice. And that has been their goal for forty years.  ”
Bruce Bartlett, Deputy Ass't Treasury Director under G.W. Bush

posted 3/2/19


 2/6/19 -- One and a Half Robins 

In his second (and only slightly belated) State of the Union message to Congress, President Trump delivered, as is his wont, several whoppers. To no one's surprise.

But what may have been the biggest whopper of all passed like a ship in the night, possibly because the TV commentators reporting on the event don't really know much more about GDP than the Donald does.

Stretchers on subjects ranging from "The Wall" to criminal aliens, women in the work force, wage growth, public safety in El Paso, minority employment rates and creeping socialism, in turn, showcased the president's penchant for nonsense, non-sequiturs, misstatements, half-truths, flights of fancy and wild, in-your-face mendacities.

But the Fourth Estate was prepared. They'd assembled armies of fact-checkers to red-flag and review, in almost real time, the president's expected stream of suspicious claims and exaggerations. When Trump claimed that economic growth had doubled on his watch, however, he pretty much got a pass all around.

A few anchors turned to their economic experts, but those too punted on the claim. It could be they weren't sure how to do the math, GDP being such a recondite matter (quarter-by-quarter percentage differences multiplied by four (to annualize the difference) and then multiplied by a deflator in order to adjust for inflation. Plus, the numbers are in the trillions.

“   The United States economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.   ”

But it looks like that's what Trump did, and it gave him a figure nearly (still not quite) twice as large in his favor, e.g., 3.4 vs. 1.8. (Admittedly, using the 3Q '18 GDP figure put him three months out of date. Fourth quarter numbers were delayed, a casualty of the shutdown, but the Atlanta Fed predicts it will be more like 2.7%, less flattering still to the President's case.)

Even an undergrad with just a minor in economics could have told the president that this was not a valid way to measure GDP growth in his brief term in office. It's more like choosing a high number for me and a low number for you and seeing how they compare. Oh goody, I win!

This is Donald Trump, so it could have been just an uninformed misjudgment. He truly wouldn't know. But this is the State of the Union address, and he has advisors who are real economists.

Peter Navarro, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy and the numbers man with Trump's ear these days, may be a little loony, but he's got a PhD in economics from Harvard and taught at UC Irvine. He knows how GDP works.

"These guys believe that a 350 billion dollar tax cut will stimulate the economy, and they're full of s**t. Because they don't know what stimulates the economy. The economy goes up, it goes down, it goes up, it goes down, it goes up, it goes down, nobody knows why the f**k it happens." (Lewis Black, "Black on Broadway," 2004l)

It's hard to look smart dealing with such abstrusities unless you're truly ready to appear both brilliant and plain-speaking at the same time. Where's Charles Krugman when you need him?

The boldest could do little more than acknowledge, yes, GDP had indeed grown more fastly on his watch, adding meekly that maybe Trump shouldn't get all the credit. Then they clasped their hands on the desk in front of them and waited for the next question (which hopefully wouldn't involve long division).

Trump's GDP numbers are pretty good numbers, no question, but not wildly out of line with what you'd expect from an economy in the later stages of a long-term economic growth spurt.

Since the second quarter of June 2014 the US has enjoyed 20 straight quarters of uninterrupted GDP growth. (This is the second longest recovery on record, someone said.) Numbers even Tom Brady could admire.

Trump characterized his "GDP accomplishment" as an "economic miracle," but even an increase of 100% would at best be only near-miraculous. It happens. More to the point, skeptics might ask, what, or more specifically, where was he actually measuring?

Ignoring for the moment that quarter-to-quarter GDP can be a volatile number and even two years of a presidential term might not be enough time for a legitimate assessment, let's just try to figure out what point of comparison the President had in mind.

GDP growth for 2018 will come in at about 3%, an improvement over any part of Obama's tenure no matter how measured. (2015 GDP grew 2.9%.) But for it to have really doubled, there would need to be some Obama GDP metric of 1.5% or less to compare it to. What would fit that bill and still make for a sensible comparison? What could the President have been thinking?

GDP growth in Obama's last year in office was 1.9%. Hmm, close. Almost 60% better for Trump. But not nearly double. Given GDP's quarter-to-quarter volatility, maybe Trump felt such a narrow-term comparison might smack of cherry-picking anyway.

So perhaps Obama's last two years compared to Trump's first two. That would produce average annual GDP growth of 2.6% for Trump versus 1.96% for Obama. Ooh, that's worse: only 32% better.

Similarly unsatisfactory results come from comparing Trump's two years to Obama's two full terms together or just the whole second term alone. And again, there's the problem of asymmetric comparisons

The thought occurs, given that the Donald probably doesn't know much about GDP beyond how to spell it, maybe he simply took his most recent reported quarterly GDP growth figure (Q3 '18) on hand versus Obama's last quarter in office (4Q '16).

This, of course, is an apples-to-oranges comparison, looking more at quarter-to-quarter volatility than actual growth. (Which is what GDP is designed to do, by the way: spot and annualize current versus historical growth trends.)

So do Trump's Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney (Georgetown, major in international economics) and Larry Kudlow, Director of Trump's National Economic Council (studied politics and economics in a Master's program at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, did not graduate).

So, speaking for the group, this was a knowing lie intended to deceive a gullible audience.

But for Donald it may actually have been an improvement on past performance. Last August he made a similar brag about GDP growth under his guiding hand. He claimed then that he had tripled it. So at least he got a little closer to the truth this time.

(For the record, the country with the "hottest" GDP in 2018 was Ghana (8.3%) according to the World Bank. In 2017, the title went to Ethiopia at 8.5%. So close.)

Some Are Born Great ...

One of Sammy's favorite dictums, used on these pages before, is that presidents don't ruin economies, economies ruin presidents. (Although it could be argued Donald Trump is giving this theorem a serious bench test.)

But by and large the economy is impacted, positively and negatively, by a broad range of forces over which a president can exert little direct control.

What's more, consequential decisions that actually could move the economy might very well not show their effects until after—sometimes, years after—he's left office.

George H.W. Bush comes to mind. He may have lost his reelection bid to a tax increase he put in place that may have ushered in years of growth during his successor's term in office.

Late last summer Justin Fox penned a piece for Bloomberg that examined this same subject and reached some thought-provoking conclusions. His proposal for how to most accurately calibrate GDP performance during a president's term(s) in office was applied to calculations in this posting (although it proved of negligable numerical signifigance dealing with short timeframes).

Maybe more significant, Fox provides a different way of approaching the entire impact of GDP growth and its importance in assessing a president's accomplishments as the country's national leader.

Fox's piece can be found here: Guess Which Presidents Really Oversaw Economic Booms. The chart below is taken from his story.

This is a highly worthwhile article for anyone looking to develop a deeper understanding of GDP and how economic growth plays out over time in our country's progress. In fact, it would be a very good article for the president.

posted 2/10/19


In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
James Madison foresees the dangers social networking poses to the body politic in "The Federalist No. 55" (1788). Jeffrey Rosen explains in "Madison vs The Mob" in The Atlantic.
posted 10/13/18