Monthly Archives: May 2014

Context Free Journalism Makes it Harder to Help the Veterans

SONY DSC

They Served With Honor

Allegations that long waiting times for health services from the VA caused forty military veteran deaths; and that VA staff covered-up the problems by cooking the books on performance measures, were surely not buried on Page Seven as they emerged the past few weeks. The more we’ve learned, the sadder it gets.  But, unless you are an aggressive consumer of news, the context and background, vital to a resolution that truly benefits vets, has been scarce.  Context free journalism (which really is, or should be,  an oxymoron) makes it harder to help the veterans,

If you were expecting useful context on this latest affair to rock the federal government, it would have been real hard to find.  Even CNN’s serious, mainstream Sunday morning news shows were thin on nuance, to complement the sensationalism and finger pointing that dominated discussion.  We might as well have recitations of N.Y. Post headlines on Sunday mornings.  Lack of time on the one hour shows is not a satisfying excuse.

Why is context so important; and why is there so little of it?

First, it’s not entirely true that CNN, or news media generally, hasn’t provided context. The CNN talking heads last Sunday included quick, parenthetical allusions to (a) remarkably high ratings the VA receives from its clients;  (b) the fact that funding of VA health services has fallen far behind a rapid rise in caseloads; (c) that veterans’ health issues have become more severe, complicated, and costly to address; and (d) that real, documented progress has (finally)  been made by the Shinseki led VA on the claims backlog.

But if a barking dog distracted you for a second from Candy Crowley’s CNN panel on Sunday, you wouldn’t have heard any of that. If you are a passive consumer of news, like the vast majority of Americans, you would have come away from CNN with an apocalyptic view of veterans health care. The situation at the VA is bad, and we learn more disappointing things each day. Buy apocalyptic reporting leads to throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Amazingly, a few politicians, across the political spectrum,  including President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and Senator Sanders,  have expressly warned against that.  Wow!

I’ll admit, I almost jumped out of bed on Sunday to write a blog post calling for the immediate firing of Shinseki, dismantling the entire VA health system (right now) and putting all the veterans under Medicare, or maybe turning the whole ball of wax over to Halliburton or Blackwater, as soon as possible. Don’t laugh (or cry), something like the latter is already a serious proposal.

It should be obvious that understanding the context of a crisis (part of taking a deep breath) is vital for responding effectively. But we won’t see that any time soon from the outlets that feed news to most Americans.  All the more reason to have figures in public office willing to take deep breaths, even if their media handlers can’t stand it.

What about the broader context for the series of “scandals,” some real, others manufactured, that have shaken the federal government?  Lets just pick a few:  This VA Affair;  the (alleged) targeting of Tea Party organizations by the IRS; the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi; and website failures in the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act.

What do these have in common? They all seemed to blind side the President. They caused all of us to ask, ”what were they thinking?”  They involved an element of really bad management at some level.  Severe partisanship exaggerated the problems and preempted real solutions; which went hand in hand with apocalyptic reporting. And, all four had a legitimate “lack of funding” defense, even if that didn’t tell the whole story.

Indeed, a defense offered in all four “scandals” is that bad things happened because federal funding was cut or requests for more money refused; and thus agency budgets didn’t keep pace with rising workloads and pressures.  Among the four debacles, this argument is most legitimate in the current VA meltdown. Senator Patty Murray, from Washington State, who gained a lot of trust not long ago when she and Representative Paul Ryan brokered a rare bi-partisan budget deal, has already made the “lack of funding” argument in the VA Affair.

I don’t believe lack of money was the only or main factor responsible for bad behavior and outcomes at the VA, but there is more than a kernel of truth to the funding defense. The VA has had a flood of new clients, including returnees from the two middle east wars, aging Vietnam era and Persian Gulf war vets who need more medical care, and new commitments to pay real attention to PTSD and “agent orange” related illness. That represents a very hefty rise in clients, pressure, and appointments.  All the more reason to wonder why the VA committed to a 14 day waiting time for service to vets, without going to the mat on funding.  What were they thinking?

From personal experience, as a former state government bureaucrat, I can offer this perspective:  Just about every time my organization was charged with a major new responsibility, the Legislature provided just a fraction of the requested funding, but not (usually) with a commensurate paring of responsibilities. Budget cuts were often made with an express (Alice in Wonderland) assumption that “efficiencies” would allow service levels to remain the same,  Doing more with less was the mantra.  If you just say so, it will happen.  Budget writers are often in competition with economists to find creative ways of assuming away reality.

Yes, many government agencies can be much more efficient. And, yes, asking for more money all the time has worn out budget writers on both sides of aisles, at all levels of government. There is admittedly a “crying wolf” problem here. But there are too many cases where the budget “ask” is legitimate, and the refusal arbitrary and harmful, leading to everything from lies to death.

I respect the VA, but the system does seem kind of quaint. If we were starting a national program for care of military veterans today, we probably would make them all eligible for a form of Medicare or give them vouchers for private insurance (preferably ones that kept pace with medical care costs).  If you believe all the good things veterans say about the VA on their surveys, they wouldn’t (necessarily) be receiving better care through another system.  The main thing to be said for keeping the VA together, is the organization learns a lot about treating certain conditions which, alas, are found more often among military veterans, like PTSD, paraplegia, and loss of limbs. There is great value in concentrating this kind of expertise. Remember, in the current affair, the tragedy is around lack of access (and lies about it), not treatment (which we hear, from the Vets, is solid).  Keep your fingers crossed.

 

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Is There a U.S. Manufacturing Jobs Revival? Four Reasons to Damp Down the Celebration

Get that degree in black-smithing

Get that degree in black-smithing

If you’ve been following the business pages and economic blogs closely for the past year,  you’ve seen stories like the recent one in the LA Times, which raise hopes about a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S.  If they’re not predicting a resurgence, they suggest the bleeding of well paying, full-time manufacturing jobs has stopped.  An earlier, Washington Post story in 2013, poured some needed cool water on this wishful thinking.

If you are an economics,  jobs, wage, or “inequality” debate junkie, both articles are worth a read.  Overall, I am on the skeptics’, or the “glass-is-half-empty,” side.  Here is why:

There are four perspectives to keep in mind when you hear anything about a reversal in the manufacturing jobs decline.  Bring them to bear whenever you encounter this subject:

1) The anecdotal data is just that, stories here and there, which raise hopes, but pale next to the aggregate data.

2) These are not your father’s manufacturing jobs. They are better than flipping burgers at “In ‘N Out,”  but they are not the same in terms of wages, benefits, and security.

3) International currency machinations, particularly by the Chinese,  play a huge role in determining where manufacturing companies expand or re-locate. That can change on a U.S. dime (or Chinese Renmimbi).

4) Large productivity gains in manufacturing have not stopped; and they won’t. Technology offsets any other factors that may be raising hopes about a manufacturing jobs revival.

If you pour over the manufacturing jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – the BLS is still the authoritative source – it’s very hard to distinguish between a (possible) manufacturing comeback, and the long awaited recovery of a few of the six million manufacturing jobs lost in the Great Recession.

Anecdotes about Chinese firms opening manufacturing plants in the U.S., and U.S. manufacturers bringing back jobs from China, are water drops in the sea of macro data from the BLS.  Between January and April 2014, the number of manufacturing jobs has remained about the same. (Yes, that’s better than losing jobs).  At 12.1 million in April 2014, manufacturing employment is still about 2 million below the pre-recession number. You can view the data here.

Even if you think the anecdotes are the leading edge of a turnaround, the average wage of recently added manufacturing jobs is about 10 percent below the figure for the rest of U.S. manufacturing.  Indeed, one explanation for some of the good news on the manufacturing front, is that it’s been fueled by a decline in U.S. manufacturing wages in real (inflation adjusted) terms.  Meanwhile,  Chinese and other competitors’ wages have at least kept pace with inflation.  A Wall Street Journal analysis notes: “The celebrated revival of U.S. manufacturing employment has been accompanied by a less-lauded fact:  Wages for many manufacturing workers aren’t keeping up with inflation.”

This should not be surprising.  A large share of the new manufacturing jobs are in non-union companies, generally in states with right to work laws.  Even in states more friendly to collective bargaining, unions have made concessions on wages to prevent job losses. See previous posts on Boeing wage concessions in Washington State, here and here.

Part of the rise in Chinese manufacturing wages relative to the U.S., which makes it less attractive to locate abroad, has been a rise in the value of China’s currency; that increases labor costs in China relative to the U.S.  These changes have come in part as a result of pressure on China by the U.S. and other western industrial countries to adjust it’s over-valued currency.

That’s good news, but not necessarily a basis for a fundamental turn in U.S. manufacturing jobs. With a restless labor force demanding double digit job growth to keep pace with population growth, can China continue on this course?  On the other hand, that same restless labor force, also wants to be paid more.  We’ll see how these competing forces play out in China.

Looming over all of this, is a forty year trend in technology related productivity gains, which has enabled manufacturers to produce more with less workers. This trend is not going to abate; if anything, it will accelerate.  Since 1975, manufacturing output in the U.S. has more than doubled, while employment in the sector has decreased by 31%.

China is predicted to lead the world in small drone production in the decade ahead. Why isn’t the U.S. becoming the hot spot for manufacturing the millions of personal and commercial drones that will soon be in demand?    This looks like another case where the U.S. developed the technology,  but won’t likely be producing it.   That’s the more likely trend than a manufacturing revival in the U.S.

“Teacher Education Sucks” — Can That Explain the Rialto Fiasco?

Once a Public School, Now a Yeshiva

Once a Public School, Now a Yeshiva

The school board in Rialto, California, near Los Angeles, assigned its eighth graders to think critically about the Holocaust. They were asked to write an essay explaining whether they believed the Holocaust was a real historical event, or “merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.” You can read about the story here.

That was the assignment. No kidding!  This is of course profoundly stupid. Perhaps a better exercise for the eight graders in Rialto would have been this assignment:

“Write an essay addressing whether ‘Teacher Education’ in America, including the Schools of Education, undergraduate Education Degrees, and Education Doctorates, constitute real professional training, or are just an easy way to obtain credentials for students of modest ability who couldn’t hack it in a real academic subject.”

“Analyze That,”  as Mr. Di Niro might have exclaimed.

There have been many Holocausts in world history, but the one school administrators were talking about in Rialto was the annihilation of 6 million Jews by Nazis in WWII, along with many Catholics, Romani (sometimes disrespectfully called “gypsies”), Soviet prisoners of war, Polish citizens, and LGBTers, bringing the horrific total to about 11 million.

I’m not going to elaborate on the obvious – that asking kids to critically examine whether or not the Holocaust actually happened, is close to debating the pros and cons of whether 2+2 =4.  (“Well not in base 12”).  But, I am going to argue that the motives of educators in Rialto probably had nothing to do with bigotry or hate (at least not on their part).

This story made the front pages of a few major California newspapers, but it was buried in most of the country.  I watch most of the cable news stations — yes, both Fox and MSNBC – and I did not see it covered there, though this is one story which would upset both sides of the political divide, in the same way. There is some common ground.  Maybe that’s why it wasn’t covered?

Here are some other possible explanations of what happened in Rialto, posed as hypotheses to be tested by critically thinking, well trained social scientists:

Hypothesis #1: The educators in Rialto are ignorant.

Their training in history and social science is meager; their grasp of factual information is tenuous; they are unsophisticated. This would not be a surprise.  Teacher Education in America has long been the least challenging of virtually any academic discipline. The worst kept secret in academia, for decades, is that Education Degrees are often a last refuge for students who couldn’t hack it in a truly substantive or rigorous academic discipline.

There are of course a tremendous number of exceptions to that generality. If it is at all truthful, it probably applies to a minority of educators, but, I suggest, to a large enough minority,  such that a group of educators in Rialto, California could simply have not realized the stupidity of their Holocaust exercise.

While I was teaching in the social sciences at the University of Washington (UW) in 1979 –- and UW is a fine institution with high GPA and SAT standards for admission – I had a junior say to me: “I’m not sure who Hitler was, but I know he had something to do with WW II.”  Hmm!  He was not enrolled in Teacher Education, so maybe that’s a point against my hypothesis, but I would not be the least bit surprised if some of those educators in Rialto are like this student.

Hypothesis #2: The educators in Rialto are just victims of today’s propogandist news media.

Another angle on the Rialto story, which precludes bigotry or hatred (on the part of the teachers), is the state of today’s news media.  Even though virtually none of the most watched and heard liberal and conservative “news” propogandists engage in Holocaust denial, this toxic strain is easy to find all over the internet and blogosphere.  It makes its way into both the extreme left and right.  It also receives coverage in mainstream news when, for example, anti Israeli leaders, in countries from Iran to Venezuela, are interviewed or heard speaking at the United Nations. I could believe that some educators in Rialto have been exposed to these viewpoints; and thus consider it fair game for critical analysis. You would think, they are sufficiently educated to not bite; but see Hypothesis #1 above.

Hypothesis #3: The educators in Rialto really understand that Holocaust denial is bigotry, and thought their exercise would preempt such thinking amongst their students.

One other possibility that falls short of the bigotry and hatred hypothesis,  is that the teachers involved  in the Rialto fiasco believed Holocaust denial was absurd and contemptible, and (merely, with good intentions) wanted the kids to learn how to go about debunking and exposing this form of bigotry and hatred.  I think this is the weakest of my three hypotheses, but its in the running,

Even if none of these hypotheses are on the right track, the Rialto affair has reminded me of the fight around teacher professionalism and salaries. When teachers are expected and required to navigate the same sort of rigorous training and education that we demand of other professionals, like engineers, lawyers, accountants, scientists, and (some) social scientist and humanities majors, then we can begin talking seriously about compensation for teachers that’s equal to the practitioners of the other disciplines.  Teachers are already well compensated in many places in the country, especially when you factor in pensions and health insurance benefits.

But dramatic reform in teacher education has to come first, before I’m willing as a taxpayer to pony up more money. Not the other way around – money first, and teacher education reform later.  That wouldn’t make sense.

Yes, my angst over the Rialto incident has resulted in a (sort of) rant about the teaching profession, but of course I don’t intend my remarks to extend to all teachers, by any means.

One last barb: The scores of letters to the editor that you see in newspapers all over the country from teachers attacking efforts to include student test scores as ONE of several factors evaluating teacher performance, and doing so in way that statistically controls for many other factors affecting student outcomes, are, for the most part, written by teachers who took a really dumbed-down form of social science statistics.  The average teacher in Chicago, for example, wouldn’t know a Chi Square from Chi Sox, if they tripped over it.

Don’t forget to address your school principal as “Doctor.”  And do get involved with your kids’ education at the school building level, if you don’t have to work two jobs.

What’s the Difference Between Piketty and Marx?

The Investor and Wage Earning Classes

The Investor and Wage Earning Classes

Before I say anything about the title or provide background, here is the thrust of today’s post, so you can decide whether or not to read the remaining 950 words:

The Right needn’t worry that Piketty has given the Left (or Center) the tools it needs to eviscerate capitalism. The Left will find that once the media blitz and the Piketty infatuation have faded, its mission to defeat Inequality remains just as daunting and frustrating as before. Which is not to say the Piketty book lacks consequence.

In the title, I am referring of course to Karl Marx, the 19th century German sociologist, economist, philosopher, and historian. In those days, the “social sciences” were vertically integrated. Marx treatises and polemical works on capitalism are still the most influential,  even though hardly anyone believes in Marxism anymore, or is willing to say so. His most sweeping and scholarly book was Das Kapital.

The other name in the title is Thomas Piketty, a living (and now, presumably wealthy) French economist, whose recent tome, Capital in the 21st Century, bears a similar title to Marx leading work. It also treats the subject with a breadth and ambition that is reminiscent of Marx. From what I can tell without having delved deep in his heart or mind, Piketty is not a Marxist.  But, Piketty and his new 700-page book, have been compared to Marx by everyone from Rush Limbaugh, to writers at The Nation, The Economist, and The National Review; the intellectual Left, Center and Right.

One can’t do much justice to a Piketty- Marx comparison in a 1000 word blog article. But having read a lot of Marx in college (taught gingerly by professors who had been traumatized by McCarthyism), and selective parts of Piketty at a Barnes and Noble coffee shop (with horrible bagels), I may be just dangerous enough to add a little value to this discussion.

As I said earlier, there is less here than meets the eye, for either Left or Right, which
is not to say the Piketty book lacks consequence. Piketty has shown his fellow economists you can be highly relevant and still held in high esteem by academicians and intellectuals. He has put the rest of his profession to shame, by boldly tackling the defining issue of our time (if you agree with the Pope and President) with rigor, logic, data, and footnotes. Most of his professional peers have spent the last sixty years assuming away reality, so that what remains is neat enough to treat mathematically. (For full disclosure, I own up to having done some of that myself).

Piketty doesn’t offer bold or workable prescriptions for reducing Inequality. But he’s shown academics how to get into the game; and its rewards. I have often said in this blog that a Nobel Prize awaits the economist who finds a sound intellectual basis for a version of Free Trade that doesn’t keep screwing workers in industrial societies. That might also bring elements of the Right and Left together. Piketty’s central argument — if you’ll excuse boiling down 700 pages to a sentence or two — is that “wealth” (property, capital, investments) grows a lot faster than wage income. That is not just an empirical assertion; Piketty offers his reasons for why that’s (practically) inevitable,    Considering the effects of compounding, ordinary wage earners are going to be marginalized over time; while the rich get richer. And its going to get worse, says Piketty.

Piketty has delighted the Left and scared the Right by (purportedly) proving that capitalism causes the rich to get richer and the poor to get even poorer. That’s an old adage and concept, but Piketty provides a logical and empirical basis for it that stands up better than what Marx gave us. (In fairness to Marx, Picketty had more centuries and societies to work with, and more research assistants with computers).

On the other hand, the causal map in Picketty’s explanation of Inequality is at a high level of theory and abstraction; thus, its of little immediate use to policy makers or citizens. If Picketty were a climate scientist, he’d be sounding alarms about global warming backed by data, and predicting catastrophe, but he’d tip toe around whether humans have much to do with it. I know that sounds absurd, and unfair. Of course humans are responsible for economic outcomes. And Piketty knows that. But he is loathe to say it. He maintains a safe distance between his theorem about wealth (inexorably) outpacing wages; and the human actions and institutions responsible for that.  Whether or not you agree with Marx, reticence about the human causes of inequality was not one of the German philosophers’ shortcomings.

Not only does Picketty avoid a serious look at proximate factors like decaying labor unions, or free trade policies that create serious competition from poor low wage countries, he hardly mentions the (possibly larger)  inequalities within his underdog class of wage earners. He skips past the special case of wage inequality and its causes, which likely include technological changes — technology and software that eliminate mid-level jobs and leave the labor market polarized between the highly educated and skilled at the top, and the mass of poorly educated and unskilled at the bottom. See Robert Solow’s observations on that here.

Marx’s punchline was basically that contradictions within capitalism would eventually cause it to fail, resulting in an egalitarian utopia.  Marx added exhortations to hasten the “inevitable” outcome. (Just in case history and the iron clad laws needed a nudge).

Piketty, by contrast, proposes a global tax on wealth, and higher income taxes on the rich, which many on the Left already find insufficiently re-distributionist; possibly even too small to register on Joe the Plumber’s radar screen.  Piketty admits his tax solution isn’t even likely to happen, though it flows logically from his findings.

So, yes, regressive tax policy is (by inference) identified in Piketty’s work as a cause of Inequality. Factors that have been staring us in the face for forty years, around Unions, Free Trade, and Technology await others’ work on the scale of Piketty. If any of them go at it with Piketty’s empiricism and rigor, a Nobel Prize awaits, unless Piketty claims it first, or the mathematicians continue to rule the Nobel Economics Committee.

Another large difference between Picketty and Marx is the latter was more sociologist than economist. Marx depicted capitalism as a set of economic arrangements made possible by political and social institutions, like religion, which (he argued) were created to support and perpetuate it.  Marx famously said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Religion to Marx was one of the social institutions used by capitalists to “pacify and subdue the masses.” That’s where the notion of “godless communism” derives. Today Marx would say  the religious right in the U.S. is a manifestation of that, and has caused millions to vote against their economic interests. Conservatives counter, that Marx was even more materialistic than capitalists, in that he couldn’t imagine people who thought religious values and practice might be more important than economic interests.  Piketty doesn’t even flirt with that kind of stuff.

The April U.S. Job Numbers: The Perils of Ignoring the Ether

Sailing Through the Ether

Sailing Through the Ether

Yet another month of new U.S. jobs numbers has been issued by the stalwart, fabled and relentless Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  As Red Skelton might have said: “God Bless.”

Besides the persistence of the Bureau, if there is anything that hasn’t changed in decades, it’s the way analysts and pundits react to the job and unemployment numbers each month. The headline story this time is that U.S. jobs grew by a healthy 288,000 in April, as the unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent.  None of that of course was buried on Page Seven. What was missing too often was context; what I like to call the economic Ether.

Because they don’t want to sound like broken records, analysts each month search for something new or controversial to explain the numbers:  Obamacare deadlines, interest rate gyrations, gasoline prices, the cold wave, the heat wave, budget brinksmanship, Washington gridlock, events in the Ukraine. The stuff in the Ether is much more edifying, and daunting,  I will get specifically to that in a moment.

How did the media report the April numbers?  This was the basic narrative:

“These are really good and surprising job growth numbers; and an amazing drop in unemployment, beating most forecasts. Yipee!  But,wait a minute, it looks a lot better than it really is. This is just a rebound reflecting pent up demand after a quarter of business activity stymied by bad weather. [Note: earlier, these same pundits said weather really didn’t have much to do with first quarter weakness]. Besides, the dramatic drop in the unemployment rate is not an indicator of strength; its due to 800,000 more people leaving the labor force [after 500,000 entered the prior month].”

Stock market gyrations on Friday mimicked the script. Up early, down late.

This analysis is not exactly wrong, but it’s distracting; and another missed teachable moment. If you really believe a cloud hides behind every silver lining, then talk about the really important forces in the Ether that account for it, even if you have to sound like a broken record.  It doesn’t mean you have to recount forty years of economic history each time,   There is a middle ground.

Before getting to the Ether, I am chomping at the bit to point out that data indicating 500,000 people (suddenly) entered the labor force in March, followed by 800,000 dropping out in April, is plainly wrong. I would be embarrassed to report it, if that’s what my models showed. It’s an artifact of quirky methods and monthly measurement errors.  Maybe the average for the two months is correct.  (After they do all the cleansing and revisions, which sometimes take a year or more, the BLS does do pretty good work.  And I am grateful for them).

That reminds me of another BLS methods issue, which will sound a little nerdy, but is vital to understanding the economy. The Bureau and many economists talk all the time about the “drop” in the labor force participation rate (LFPR) to “historic lows.”  The LFPR is the percent of people 16 or older who are working or looking for work;  they are defined as being “in the labor force.”

It is rarely noted that part of the drop in LFPR is undoubtedly due to the aging of the population (and its workers), even if seniors are working longer.  I don’t how much of the drop can be explained by by baby boomer demographics,  but BLS doesn’t make it easy to find out. And since I’m a semi- retired, unpaid applied economist, I’m not going to dig into the weeds myself.  That’s BLS’  job or the responsibility of the noted “chief economists” who comment every month on the job numbers.  They have the resources. While they’re at it, they should point out that the aging of the workforce is also part of the all important economic Ether that really explains what’s going on.

That makes for a good pivot and transition to the Ether.

Hardly any mention was made about the Ether in the ritual monthly analysis of the BLS numbers.   Just to keep us limber and focused, here is a reminder of some of the elements in the Ether, the ones that aren’t being trapped by greenhouse gases. The elements hardly change from month to month, and they explain a lot.. Here are some of the Ethereal features, in capsule form:

The wealth of middle class households, battered by the Great Recession, remains depressed. Middle class wealth consisted of home equity and retirement nest eggs. Much of that was lost in the Great Recession.  Crushing student debt keeps overall household debt high, and the consumer under wraps. The student debt, which prevents young people from buying homes, is a massive drag on the housing recovery and overall economic growth. The shrinking public sector (possibly justified by high sovereign debt), is also a persistent drag on the economy.  Public sector hiring in the past has usually helped the economy recover. (Those are real jobs). Yes, we should add the sovereign debt as an Ethereal factor.  Forty years of “race to the bottom” keeps workers and their wages in check. The twin forces behind this are “free trade,” which forces U.S. firms to compete with ones abroad that provide meager wages and benefits to workers, and the domestic version of free trade, in which states battle with each other to see which can pay the lowest wages and provide the most tax breaks to companies. Technological “advances” these days give more leverage to big business, replace people with machines and software, favor a few occupations; and widen wage and income gaps. We await the new high paying jobs from these technologies.  Finally, there is the aging of the workforce, which is due entirely to baby boomers getting old and retiring.  That will continue through about 2030 or 2040, and will depress labor force growth.  Its already doing so. (Allowing more immigration to America may ameliorate that). Losing so many experienced workers may depress productivity; and savings as well, since older people tend to dis-invest. Since labor force growth, productivity, and savings are, coincidentally, the three main factors behind economic growth, these elements of the Ether are mighty important.

The Ether capsule turned out to be a bit larger than intended. But something like it can be reduced by editors to 6 point font and used as a preamble to the superficial monthly punditry accompanying the BLS releases. The editors can make room for it by ditching the lead paragraph they were taught to write in Journalism School, about Gertrude and Irving, who live on a hill in Sommerville, and who couldn’t make it to level ground during the snow storm, and missed work. A real human interest grabber, explaining the reasons for low job numbers in December.